Reality Check Might Be in Order
Posted Feb 1, 2008 6:18 PM CDT
As a third-year law student, I am concerned. I worry that when members of the bar read articles like “Students Aim for BigLaw Change,” December, they assume that the gripes of Andrew Canter are representative of the class of 2008. I fear that firms see law students as whiny, self-centered brats with a sense of entitlement in tow.
Apparently, we want a salary of over $100,000 in return for a 9-to-5 job, and on top of that we want to be praised for doing nothing more than showing up in our shiny new suit. After all, we’re lawyers, we went to school, we landed the job, we’re brilliant, and we deserve it—right?
What law students need is a dose of reality. When we get a job, that’s exactly what we get. Sooner or later, the sexiness of being a lawyer fades, and practice becomes work. No doubt, the practice of law is grand, and I am proud to be a part of a noble tradition.
Nevertheless, as an associate, I do not expect that every minute behind my desk I will want to leap for joy at the thrill of being a lawyer. Neither do I expect to have a utopian work-life balance full of leisure pursuits with a side of work to be done on my time and on my terms. To the contrary, I expect to work and to learn. Practicing law requires work, and competence requires a great deal of work.
I do not see a problem with the situation. Regardless of the hours required, I welcome the opportunity to work hard and long. It is in this process that I plan to learn all the things that law school failed to teach. Because law students are next to incompetent, there is good reason for immersing first-year associates in a heavy workload.
Through early learning experiences, young lawyers become competent. Although achieving competence is a feat in itself, I want to achieve more than that. As a young lawyer I want to walk in the footsteps of the many great lawyers who have come before me. I do not want a firm to conform to my needs or to tailor a veritable mother’s-day-out program for first-years to ease us into our profession. I want to conform to the approach that has trained great lawyers, which in many cases is a baptism by fire.
Canter worries that firms are going to “lose talent by remaining at the bottom of [his] list.” Frankly, talent is worthless if it is not accompanied by a strong work ethic and mental fortitude. Instead of wasting time and energy on developing ranking systems and inventing complaints, law students and young lawyers should focus on becoming excellent advocates and counselors. Law firms do not owe us anything.
Perhaps firms can attribute high attrition rates to young lawyers expecting something other than work when they accept a job offer.
SOLO SLANT COULD BE BROADENED
The ABA Journal’s treatment of solo practitioners, exemplified by two articles in the December issue, is disappointing. Such practitioners are almost invariably depicted as ill-qualified and financially unsuccessful (or at best, not yet successful), working in ill-served areas of the law.
Grossman’s profile reflects him embarking on an estate planning practice—a field that is constantly changing and involves sophisticated tax and other parameters—with no preparation other than working as a public defender, while voicing modest financial aspirations.
Johnson’s profile reflects her commencement of a solo practice two weeks after bar admission because of her “unconventional” nature and belief that she can be a “great attorney,” and a very modest profit from her one year in practice.
These are simply the latest portions of a largely unbroken line of profiles of solos as modestly compensated people lacking specialized expertise, attending primarily to juvenile delinquents, abused women (or elderly men) and illegal immigrants.
While there is nothing inappropriate about such representations, and I greatly respect those who pursue them based upon their values and convictions, it suggests that it is impossible for a solo to make a good living from a mainstream business practice after proper preparation for the unique needs of their clients.
Even the April 2007 issue, which purported to highlight successful solos, gave short shrift to their presence in the business practice area.
Myself and numerous other practitioners have established their own business practices after “cutting their teeth” for extended periods (19 years in my case) in their chosen specialty and are creating significant value for themselves and their clients. We did not simply wake up one morning and decide to pursue such a specialty.
You do a great disservice to many of your readers by associating them with solos of this nature—and a greater disservice to the public by not making clear that they should expect their lawyer, in any practice environment, to be properly educated and experienced to meet their particular needs.
Buffalo Grove, Ill.
FROM THE MARGINS TO THE MAINSTREAM
I enjoyed the feature article titled “Beast Practices” in the November issue. It’s always interesting to read about fringe practice areas moving toward the mainstream.
One comment: Although the article claims the first animal law course was taught at Pace University School of Law in 1986, I took a seminar titled “Animals and the Law” at the University at Buffalo Law School in 1985. It was taught by Alan Freeman and Betty Mensch. I took it in the last semester of my third year, and it changed a habit or two of mine. If a seminar may be considered a “course,” I think the University at Buffalo Law School had the first one on animal law.
Thanks for publishing the Journal.