LEGAL ADVICEA friend told me the other day that he had been compiling a series of suggestions that he would give to a 3rd year law student who was about to enter the legal profession. He got me to think about the question, so I decided to take a shot at the same task. As loyal readers of this blog know, I don’t typically talk about the law here (I try to separate my profession from my avocation). So now that I’m creating an exception to that principle, let me say that what follows does not represent the views of my employer, the U.S. Department of Justice. These are just my personal thoughts, which you can take or leave as you please.
1. Your credibility should be one of your trademark characteristics. There are lawyers, even “successful” lawyers, who survive without it because they trade on fear instead. But those lawyers are scumbags, and besides, their margin for error is very, very small.
By the way: to lie and to “merely” mislead are synonyms. If a lawyer tells you otherwise, that’s a person who lacks credibility.
2. As a young attorney, find two mentors. One should excel with “details”; the other with the “big picture.” Many lawyers are willing to swim in the weeds of their cases, but their judgment on big picture matters leaves a bit to be desired. Other good lawyers have excellent horse sense and a strong overall grasp of the issues, but they act like they’re above learning all the details of their cases. The truly excellent lawyers, however, excel both in their command of the details and their understanding of the big picture.
3. A legal career can be a great way to make a living – assuming that it doesn’t become the sole vessel for your intellectual or creative juices. Some legal jobs require so many hours of toil that you have little time for anything else other than relaxation. I’d avoid those jobs like the plague.
4. Training in law is a wonderful background for a lifelong interest in politics. To me, that’s one of the best bi-products of a law degree. Whether or not we run for elected office, we ought never to leave the political sphere altogether. Work on campaigns, work on the Hill, start your own blog … just get involved and stay involved.
As a lawyer, you will likely develop an instinctive appreciation for public policy issues. If our democracy is to function, people like you are going to have to step up and actively fulfill your duties as a citizen.
5. Find an area of the law about which you can be passionate. Some people are such overachievers that they can seemingly generate passion about anything, but that’s not the passion I’m talking about. I’m talking about visceral, honest-to-God passion, the kind that stems from doing something that grows organically from your upbringing and/or your intellectual interests. If you’re not authentically passionate about what you do, the results will be apparent in your work.
The best thing about a law degree is the wide variety of ways in which it can be used after you graduate. I can’t think of too many degrees that are more flexible.
(P.S. -- I'll be out of town through the end of this weekend, so if you send me comments to this blog post, they won't be posted until next week. Sorry for the inconvenience.)