For many of us, building a legal career is like climbing a mountain. It’s an obvious analogy; you put in lots of hard work, never taking your eye off the prize at the top. Working through the pain by visualizing the euphoric view at the peak. After thousands of hours spent climbing toward the top, your career pinnacle—making partner at a top-tier firm—will be in reach.
It is a new year, and the reruns of It’s a Wonderful Life have finally stopped. During this holiday season, I’ve spent some time reflecting on the movie, and there are certain themes from the film that lawyers can carry into the new year.
Covington County, Alabama, a quaint yet inviting area near the Florida line, is where I spent the summer before my final year of law school at the University of Alabama. With a population of 37,000, Covington County would perhaps appear to be an unusual location to fully maximize early professional connections and final pregraduation experience. However, summer 2022 in that rural community was more valuable than any job a big city could have afforded me.
Diversity and inclusion, stress management, mental health and practice management are some of the major areas of focus among legal professionals today. And contributors to the ABA Journal’s Your Voice column certainly brought these concepts front and center in 2022.
There’s truth to the adage by renowned education administrator Nicholas Murray Butler, “An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.” Some lawyers are becoming increasingly specialized to carve out their niche in the legal field. Opportunities for specialization continue to crop up, with growing need in areas like cannabis law, for example.
I am almost always hesitant to watch stories about autism on TV. I find them extremely stressful because neurotypical creators and actors have a way of consistently “getting it wrong”: focusing on young boys; emphasizing traits in a way that feels like someone is checking them off from a list rather than fleshing out a whole human character; and almost consciously hitting upon every single stereotype.
Two years ago, to preserve my mental health, I walked away from my dream of working as a legal aid attorney. I'm no longer practicing law but now work as a diversity and equity inclusion officer at the same organization at which I practiced, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
I am a partner in the litigation department of an Am Law 200 firm, vice chair of the firm’s appellate practice group, deputy general counsel for the firm, and I serve on a variety of firm committees. In addition, I have longtime faculty appointments at both Chicago-Kent College of Law and the University of Chicago Law School. I should also add that I am a white male.
It’s well known that many in the legal profession experience stress and anxiety. For some people, the inevitable uncertainty and unpredictability that come with legal work can make life more exciting and invigorating. For others, it causes depression and burnout.