Monday, January 02, 2006
A New Year's Resolution for Lawyers
The New Year's holiday is always a time for reflection and positive forward thinking. Forget about what went wrong in the past; what are we going to do right in the coming year?
With that sentiment in mind, let me say some positive words about law firms. It's easy to criticize law firms--their culture, attitudes, lack of training and mentoring, and so on. But this is not a blog devoted to bashing law firms. While there are lawyers out there who seem to be the lost siblings of Dilbert's boss, you get that in all professions.
No, my point is that practicing law can be a magnificent career path. I mean it. Truly exciting and highly rewarding careers are out there, and in plenty. Sometimes in practice I would come home and tell my wife, "I had the most exciting day. I love my job!" And that was a desk job!
So why can practicing law in a firm be grand? Here are some reasons:
1. You are surrounded by smart people. For every Dilbert boss, there are a dozen people who are bright, ambitious, and dedicated.
2. You can make a difference. Whether you help the homeless or work for corporations, you are helping someone. Don't forget that helping a corporation helps it stay profitable--which benefits the economy and protects (at least some) employees' jobs.
3. You get to think for a living. This one is self-explanatory.
4. You get to learn for a living. For me this was an enormous benefit of practicing law (and being a law professor, for that matter). No matter what kind of law you practice, you get to meet new people, learn about new businesses, and stay current with developments in the law.
5. You have the opportunity to mentor younger attorneys and guide their careers. It is on this last point that too many firms stumble--often badly. The daily pressures and emergencies of law practice get in the way of the more important goal.
4 out of 5 isn't bad--but 5 out of 5 is far better.
So for the new year, if you are a partner or senior associate in a law firm, I challenge you to make practicing Point #5 one of your New Year's resolutions. Even if no one else in your firm is doing it.
And if you are a junior associate, make it your resolution to honor this point too when you have the chance. Even if no one else in your firm is doing it.
In fact, if no one else is doing it that is a prime opportunity for you to make your mark. The lawyers you mentor will appreciate it and be loyal to you for it. And who knows? You just may be a catalyst for change and help your firm reach its magnificent potential. I personally have seen this happen in practice, and I can attest to the enormous difference it makes.
So Happy New Year, happy practicing, and happy mentoring!