Vol. 28, No. 4
CBA President's Message to Members
What We Would Like to Tell a Brand New Lawyer
by Ben S. Aisenberg
Last month I titled my article "In Honor of New Admittees." At the same time, I reflected on the importance to those of us who have been in practice to renew the oath we took on admission to the Bar. This month, as a follow-up I have asked the three immediate past presidents what advice they would give to new attorneys.
Law school commencement is truly the beginning of one’s education as a lawyer. Having the benefit of twenty-three years of hindsight (and the good fortune of peering at the profession from some panoramic vistas), I would encourage any new lawyer to seek out every opportunity to develop his or her practical legal skills. Work with the best lawyers you can. Seek out mentors. Mentors can be invaluable! Take time to meet with and learn from your peers—sharing experiences, discussing the legal issue vexing you that day, or asking the basic questions you fear may reveal your ignorance. Challenge yourself by taking on pro bono cases, working outside your normal assignment area, or seeking out bar or other community responsibilities. Money (never unimportant) ought to be subordinate early in your career to the acquisition of skills and values. The skills and values you develop will eventually become your most valuable professional assets and the keys to success. No matter your specialty, if you can become a well-rounded counselor-at-law, you will not only achieve your potential within the profession, but also master your destiny.
1. A career in law is not a 100-meter dash; it is a marathon. Pace yourself. At times you’ll be speedy, but other times you will plod. There will be some pain and exhaustion, but you also can enjoy exhilaration and triumph. Growth as a lawyer comes from experiencing both. Occasionally you might step in something quite unappealing. Along the way someone may need to throw a cup of cold water at you, to refresh you or bring you to your senses.
2. Take the high road. Unfortunately, you will always have available the option of a shortcut or a rationalized deviance. Avoid them like the plague. If you have a doubt as to the ethical propriety of something you are about to do, don’t do it. Trust your instincts. When you take the ethical high road, you can smile when you look at that ugly mug in the morning mirror.
3. Analogize your practice of law to the use of weapons. As possessors of the privilege to practice law, you have a formidable arsenal at your disposal, one which should be used with care and caution. The rules are: (a) aim before you shoot; (b) shoot with a rifle instead of a shotgun, or worse yet, a bomb; and, (c) most importantly, shoot straight.
4. Don’t take yourself too seriously. For your sake and the sake of those around you, please laugh, and laugh at yourself first. You’re twice as good as your critics think you are, and half as good as your Mom thinks you are. Your mission is to strive to prove your Mom is closer to correct than your critics.
5. Serve and give aid to those in need who would be defenseless without your help: the weak, the poor, the abused, the victimized. Our true measure as human beings is how we treat those in need, and this profession gives us ample opportunity to make a difference.
6. You are in the quintessential service business. Financial rewards flow from serving your clients well. Provide genuine value for the fees they pay you and they will provide repeat business.
7. Render yourself invaluable. Get so good at lawyering that the thought of losing you will terrorize your clients or your employer. It’s the key to economic self-sufficiency.
8. Demand excellence of yourself and get involved. Rewards and fulfillment, be they spiritual or material, are directly proportional to the professional commitments you make. Work hard, join the bar association, get active, and make contributions of your time and energies. Don’t sit on your fanny and let others do it. Be a leader. As the saying goes with dogsled teams, "if you ain’t the lead dog, the view never changes."
9. Keep looking for new challenges. Expect and welcome change. Depending on how kinetic you are, take stock every five or ten years of where you are professionally. If you’re not fulfilled, do something about it. No one else will.
10. In the jargon of today, get a life. The law is said to be a jealous mistress. That may be true, but a mistress is all she is and not the family you love. The practice of law is not the end, but a privileged means to the end. It is your family, faith, values, and friends who give meaning to your life.
Rebecca Koppes Conway
As I look back on my past twenty years of practice, here is what I can offer for your edification: your parents told you 99 percent of what you need to know about how to succeed in the practice of law. Bear with me as I repeat some of the best points. Mind your manners. Tell the truth. Do your homework. Ask for help when you need it. Get enough sleep. Eat right. Be nice. Pick your friends carefully.
If this sounds too simple, think about all the times you have been in trouble in the past because you did not heed this advice. The practice of law may be challenging and exciting, but these basic rules will serve you well. Where you practice, with whom, and the areas in which you practice are yours to consider and experiment with. Whatever you decide, your success and happiness in the profession will be directly related to your behavior. So, listen to your folks.
In my December article, I commented on the dissatisfaction many lawyers were finding with the practice. In reading through the comments of my predecessors, their advice, although directed to new lawyers, would apply equally to all of us. This profession—the practice of law—is what we make of it. I’d like to think I personally made the practice of law better while representing my clients to the best of my ability. This was my goal when I started practice forty years ago. It is still my goal.
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