American Bar Association
General Practice, Solo, and Small Firm Division


When the Niche No Longer Fits

By jennifer j. rose

All of us do our best when we're motivated. What motivates us at one stage of our career doesn't necessarily follow to the next stage and beyond. A legal career is a series of stages from the first day at law school until the last gasp of life. Idealistic young law students may start out with grand plans to change the world, make a heap of money, satisfy family expectations, and become the next Johnnie Cochran or Martha Barnett. By the time the ink on the certificate of admission to practice has dried, those goals may fade to simply getting through the day without making a total fool of one's self in front of a client, employer, and a judge. There are times when the only soul on earth impressed by a lawyer's ability is his or her mother.

Starry-eyed novices embark upon a legal career frequently with a lot of book-knowledge and more guts than common sense. The expanding need to support a family, the mortgage company, and the children's orthodontist forces many lawyers to focus less upon ideals and more upon the lucrative aspects of practice. By the time the gutsy ideals have slid into relaxed-fit jeans, those "I love the law" epiphanies have become less frequent than I Love Lucy reruns. The glow of practicing law just isn't there, having blurred and stagnated into a black-and-white humdrum existence.

Think about what you did well 10, 20 years ago . . . and today. What did you do best back then? What do you do best today? What did you need back then, and what do you need most today? Everyone is driven by some unfulfilled need, whether it's love, recognition, lucre, contribution, significance, recognition, or self-actualization. How does the kind of law you practice, and how you practice it, fulfill those needs?

The lawyer who once enjoyed strutting in front of a jury and the combat of trial may now have become an aged warrior basking in the calmer arenas of mediation. The lawyer who spent a lifetime during the decade past shored up in a law library churning out appellate briefs may gasp for the fresh air and human contact that only arguing a zoning case can provide. Part-time work in a domestic violence clinic may be just the dose of invigoration for a middle-aged lawyer who gave up the pursuit of social justice for the steady but lucrative toil in some truly boring field.

Most of us no longer can fit into those jeans we wore back in law school, but we can always find a niche that fits our needs today.

After spending 20 years practicing family law in Iowa, jennifer j. rose found her niche as lawyer-writer in Morelia, Michoacan, where she reads her e-mail at



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