Looking back on my 50-year legal career, there are so many lessons I’ve learned along the way. Here’s a short list of the things I wish I’d known while I was studying to become a lawyer.
- I wish I’d known that my grades and class rank would likely not determine my future beyond my first job and that the most satisfying part of my future practice would be people and not corporations.
- I wish I’d known that my people skills would be as important, if not more important, than my research and writing skills. I later learned that people would be the juice that would propel me my entire professional life. Without service to people, I would have most likely burned out and retired early.
- I wish I’d realized that upon graduation from law school and obtaining my law license, I’d be acquiring a power for change that only a tiny proportion of people on this earth possess. But I’d have to be willing to exercise some of that power for the good of mankind and not just for my own good; otherwise, that strength would likely go away.
- I wish I’d known that the fear of subsequent failure that I felt in law school wasn’t well-founded. Outright failure most likely won’t occur, and even modifying or changing my subsequent career path could still represent personal and professional growth.
- It would have been good if I’d realized just how dynamic the law was and that the exciting experience of “learning the law” in law school was only the start of a lifetime of learning and experiencing that ever-evolving complex of law.
- I wish I’d known there would be opportunities everywhere, not simply to do what you know is right but also to act in ways that would make a positive difference in the life of some person or the quality of some city.
- I wish I’d known that in many areas of a law practice, the client won’t say thank you, even though they love you and appreciate what you’ve done for them. But it’s OK if they don’t say thank you. I wish I’d known that I would be helping my clients—real people—make decisions that could alter their lives forever and that, based on the quality of my own work, they may themselves either enjoy a meaningful quality of life or may struggle on the margins of life.
- I never realized in law school that the lawyer I wanted to be could inspire young attorneys to make a positive contribution to the world around them and not act only in their own self-interest.
- I also wish I’d realized that the jerks in law school would still be jerks in the practice—and nobody will like them then, either.
- I’d like to have known that my law school course in legal history, though it was despised by almost all of my classmates, would later underpin my appreciation and love of the living and evolving common law—the mechanism that could allow me to try to fix what I’d later discover was broken in our society.
- I wish I’d known at the time that four women and one Hispanic man with a room full of white guys didn’t make a diverse law school class and that I’d later benefit from much more immersion in the real world.
- Would my outcome have been different if I’d known that the same hard work required for law school wouldn’t end at graduation but would be essential through all my practice years? There would be little or no time for golf and not many days off—just focused work. I wish I’d known that vacations, when they came, would be to refuel me to continue to work. They wouldn’t be things in themselves.
- I wish I’d known that some of my classmates would elect shortcuts in their practice, just as they had elected shortcuts in law school, and that such shortcuts would make for inferior attorneys. Shortcuts can cost you your law license and your livelihood. Shortcuts can lead lawyers to jail and early deaths. These are the classmates who failed to learn there are no shortcuts for good lawyers.
- I wish I’d known that law school is the hard training for a work style, a thinking style, and a lifestyle that will comprise 90 percent of your professional success or failure. It won’t be the cases and procedures you studied and won’t even remember.