The Old Man’s Words of WisdomI am just about to enter Soviet airspace. I flew over the North Pole at 34,000 feet moments ago at 576 miles per hour.
If you had read those two sentences when I started to practice law, you would have thought you were reading a Cold War thriller and that the United States was launching a counterattack on the Russians (we never were the aggressors back then). In reality, I was just on my way to Singapore via the polar route, but it got me to thinking how much the world changed since I was admitted to the bar in 1976. Times certainly have changed. It gave me pause that new lawyers just starting out today will face challenges that I can not even dream of today.
I took this time to think about my fellow law school classmates. Some are extremely successful. Others eke out a living and could make more money working at McDonald’s. Of course, the majority are somewhere in between. One founded a firm with 80 lawyers. Several became judges. Several became presidents of major bar associations and are leaders in their fields. Some became marquee lawyers known for the cases that they handle. One made enough money that he “retired” at age 40 to his small 150-foot boat in Florida. What made these lawyers successful? Do they have common traits that a new lawyer should consider? It definitely wasn’t class standing. The most successful were in the middle of my class.
First, they were all risks takers. They made a business plan early in their career and did what was necessary to execute it. They were not afraid of failing. For one, a change of law that wiped out an initial practice area was viewed as another opportunity to change course and look for yet another area to grow. They have never remained static and were active observers of the world around them. They embraced change in any form, but especially they all embraced technology. Most learned to overcome their fears of computers. At the same time, they are students of history. Looking back at where the law came from to determine where it might go was a constant source of discussion.
New lawyers start out with fresh slates. Breaks are to be made. Opportunities are to either be taken advantage of or lost, but one has to move out of one’s zone of comfort and face the challenges that come.
— William G. Schwab
Learning the Law for More Than 29 Years