If you're still in school, take heed. Too often, law students look to the world of firms with understandably uncritical eyes. The problem is compounded by most students' unfamiliarity with law practice, by a necessarily imbalanced recruitment process, and by firms' dominance of the process and duplicative self-promotion. To many a student, the procession of interviewing firms melds into one endlessly named monolith. Each firm seems to tout the same things, and interview questions ow into each other for their repetition and vapidity.
Don't succumb to this trap. As much as you can afford to, reverse (or at least balance) the scenario. It really is (or should be) a two-way street; you should be critical of the firms while they're maneuvering about you.
Take a long, hard look at yourself. What do you really want? What is your personality best suited to? If you're of the pinstriped set, and have the grades, then shoot for that; there's plenty to choose from. But you still need to be critical, not complacent. You should look to more than nice offices, panoramic views, or fancy lunches. Look to personality. Seriously. For it is there that you will feel, months and years hence, either at home or in hell. Look beyond the L.A. Law hype. Look instead to where the firm is really coming from.
If you feel lost and unsure of your legal desires, then find a firm whose partners take mentoring seriously. Ironically, bigger firms are usually better at this... because they have to be. If you like smaller firms (and smaller firms are, generally, nicer places to practice) then you should understand that, more likely than not, a far greater part of your learning--and self-teaching--responsibility will fall upon your shoulders. If you're not self-directed, then go with a bigger firm, at least until your training wheels fall off.
If you're a total cynic, save yourself and law firms the trouble of dealing with you... find something else. The parallel construction of the preceding sentence was intentional, by the way. You won't be much fun to others--or yourself--if you're miserable. Expand your search; there's a whole lot out there for those willing to explore.
The point for you is to disabuse yourself of the notion that you should wander through as many interviews as your grades allow, go to office interviews at those firms on whose original interviewers you didn't throw up, and accept with gratefulness the "best" (meaning best-paying) offer that comes your way. Sure, the wildly cyclical job market has a lot to do (far too much) with your level of gratitude--and desperation--but do try to take your part of the process seriously.
For a good long-term fit, it is important for you to judge them as much as they judge you. If this means a lot more work in your cozy placement office (which it does), then have the pizza-delivery number ready. Spending a few dozen hours of your student time might save you from thousands of hours of costly--and resented--billable time.
You should read legal periodicals such as your state's bar journal, the ABA and National law journals, Student Lawyer, and the like... while you're still in school. This will give you a better feel for what's going on in law. It might also give you a leg up in the interviewing process, where interviewers are numbed to exhaustion--and beyond--by an endless procession of student names connected to bodies whose masters haven't a clue.
It's a paradox of life that we rarely know what we want until it's too late. This is only worsened by modern careers, which must be chosen and developed earlier and earlier. Do what you can to be one of the lucky ones who chooses wisely the first time around.
A CHANGE OF PERSPECTIVE
If you'd like to avoid some of the unpleasant by-products of frustrated Seniors, take a step back from your own troubles, and try looking at the world through their eyes.
They're busy. They have clients to deal with, many of whom are less than pleasant. They have financial concerns, just as you do, but at a higher level. They have family pressures, social pressures, business pressures, and commitments of which you are, as yet, unaware.
Enter Junior. You know next-to-nothing about practicing law. Yet you've always been at the top, and, consequently, have gotten away with a thing or two. You wear a halo, and with that you've done pretty well... but you're woefully unprepared for the real world.
Training Juniors is time-consuming, stressful work. Assigning a project to a Junior--only to have to rework most of it--will tax the patience of the most saintly Senior. This hurdle is raised several notches: First, most legal projects are under moderate-to-severe time pressure, which makes delegation more difficult. Second, the nature of legal work tends to draw on bodies of law that are only barely understood, if at all, by Juniors. (If truth be told, Seniors aren't all that sharp outside their own specialties, if for no other reasons than the complexity of most fields, the rapid change of all law, and the limited number of hours in everyone's day.) This makes it more difficult to delegate all but the most simple of legal projects. Third, Seniors are often just plain tired. They've worked hard to get where they are, having accumulated big mortgages and such. They don't need the merry-go-round to spin any faster. Finally, lawyers are, generally, awful managers. Dealing with Juniors is comparable to ossing: Everyone knows ya' oughta' do it, but boy is it easy to neglect.
The flip side for you, unfortunately, is that your training as a Junior will almost certainly be an exceedingly stressful, depressing process. Notice I used the word training? This word was not used lightly. You're not going to be educated in the noble sense of that misused word.
No. The bulk of legal practice requires two things: (1) an ability to look, sound, and act like a professional, and (2) a reasonably competent technical knowledge of the area of law in which you practice.
I hope you also noticed something about the preceding paragraph: You do not need a Holmesian mastery of the law to be successful. Indeed, such breadth of knowledge or inclination would hurt you, especially in the short run. Few want their plumber to contemplate a revised General Theory of Relativity whilst repairing the kitchen sink. They want the darned sink fixed.
Your Seniors don't want you mulling about tertiary legal strategies in blasts of statutory brilliance. It's not your place. They want you to finish their damned projects--fast--so that they can mull over legal strategy.
What else seems a little funny about the above two factors?
Look at which is first. At the risk of excessive cynicism, the style of looking, sounding, and acting like a super-sharp lawyer is almost more important than the substance of actually being one.
Less cynically, it is important for you to get comfortable with your new role as a professional. This comfort will be formed after you've acquainted yourself with the law (the substance) and its workings (a little style). Don't rush it, but do understand that much of the process is internally oriented; no one can make you feel comfortable with yourself.
Excerpted from The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book, by Thane Josef Messinger, a graduate of the U. of Texas Law School, where he was an editor of the Texas Law Review.
Copyright 1996, The Fine Print Press
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A lawyer/editor/psychotic friend raved about this book and insisted we'd love it, so we read it and liked it so much we bought the company -- opps, wrong commercial... Let's try again... After reading this new [11/96] book, we liked it so much we contacted the author and coerced him into giving a Special Deal to Library visitors who order it.
So, while we hesitate to do anything that might encourage further spread of The Lawyer Plague, if you already made up your mind, we strongly encourage you to find out more about The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book, and to order and read it immediately.