I Wish I'd Known

Vol. 39 No. 6

By

Lee Wolosky is a partner at Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP in and former  Director for Transnational Threats on the National Security Council under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

The old adage is true: There is much more to being a good lawyer than what you learn in law school. Knowing the law and the legal process is necessary, but it’s frequently not enough for professional success.

 

I was fortunate enough to connect with good mentors early in my career, and that has had a significant impact on my professional advancement. After my first year of law school, I had the great pleasure of clerking for Sonia Sotomayor, who was then in her second year as a federal district court judge. After my second year of law school, and then for almost five years after graduation, I worked closely with Ted Sorensen, President Kennedy’s top White House aide, at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

I learned from Ted, who passed away this past October after a long and distinguished career, that there’s a reason why lawyers are called “counselors”: The best lawyers counsel their clients on much more than the law. In practice, clients look to their lawyers for advice—when to be aggressive, when to compromise, when to approach the press, when to call your senator, when to conduct investigations, when to launch new products or expand into new markets, and so on.

These are not things you learn in law school; they require judgment and experience. In short, they are things you learn in practice—but only if you are able to find the right people to teach you.

If you are able to find the right mentors, you’ll learn what it takes to counsel clients. Not only that, but you’ll have doors opened for your further professional advancement. If you’re good, work hard, and have the right attitude, you’ll provide invaluable assistance to your mentors as well. For the right mentors and mentees, it is a win-win situation.

And don’t limit yourself to just one, since you’ll learn different things from different people at different times. Years later, the skills you learn and the relationships you’ll forge will make all the difference in your personal and professional enrichment. 

You never know where you—or your mentors—can end up.

 

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