Does That Framed License Mean Anything? Creating Possibilities in the Young Lawyer’s career
Jennifer L. Brinkley is an associate at Coffman Law Offices in Bowling Green, Kentucky. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you are like me, you took the bar, obtained your license, and were filled with the excitement of becoming a practicing lawyer. But after a while, your framed license on the wall wasn’t enough. The only real difference, you feel, is that you can now speak in court on those motions you prepared while waiting for your license. What have three years of law school, months of preparing for the bar exam, and a mountain of debt actually achieved? Many first-year associates become most experienced with the embarrassment of not knowing how the justice system actually works and the stinging frustration of their inexperience.
It can be very easy to feel downtrodden as a first-year associate, to wonder why you ever wanted to practice law or when you’re going to fulfill the ideals you first sought. Your everyday reality seems limited to drowning under documents loaded with terms you do not understand. But as motivational author Terry Josephson says, “Stop thinking in terms of limitations and start thinking in terms of possibilities.” Many avenues lead to success for the new attorney.
Jurisdictions may vary on actual requirements, but new attorneys often are encouraged to provide pro bono representation to clients, and this ethical “duty” can be the perfect place for new attorneys to cut their teeth on an actual case. Working through Legal Aid or other programs is a wonderful way to fulfill our ethical obligations as attorneys while picking up some much-needed, and much-desired, experience. It’s also a refreshing supplement to billable hours.
Another way to obtain experience is to sign up with the court’s guardian ad litem (GAL) program to be appointed as a children’s attorney. Abused, dependent, and neglected children are in serious need of representation from attorneys, and a GAL can be a crucial player in the life of a child who desperately needs an advocate. GALs obtain invaluable courtroom experience—and a dose of reality as to the problems facing children in their communities. It’s also a wonderful way to get to observe experienced attorneys work, as the parents are usually represented by counsel and the prosecution is involved in each case.
It is easy to despair during the early years of inexperience and lack of confidence that come with being a new attorney. You may feel light-years from where you thought you would be by now. But I found that success comes only through leaving the office and throwing yourself into the practice of law—despite innocence or inexperience. By volunteering you can obtain experience while making a difference in your community. Your confidence will grow with each case you take, and you will be able to use your hard-earned license to benefit yourself and others. When I see the difference I am making in the life of a child, or when I hear my pro bono client say, “Thank you for helping me when you did not have to,” I realize that framed license on the wall does make a difference after all.