This month, I quietly celebrate my two year anniversary as a lawyer. The Oath of Attorney I signed on April 18, 2014 when I first became a lawyer sits behind me in my office as an ever-present reminder of the road behind me, and the much longer journey ahead. Being a two-year lawyer feels vastly different than a one-year lawyer, or worse, a baby (<0 years) lawyer. There is a certain confidence that comes about once you pass the one-year-mark, akin to graduating from a learner’s permit to a full-fledged driver’s license. But then again, how safe do you feel driving with a 16-year-old?
Don’t answer that.
While I still may need practice learning how to parallel park, at least I can successfully navigate a three point turn. The view two years out is broader than it ever was because the memories of not being a lawyer, or worse, being a first year law student, remain fresh. While I am far from the hardened, war story touting trial lawyer, I have picked up a few lessons along the way.
Five lessons from two years out:
- Failure opens the door to eventual success.
Gerry Spence, arguably the greatest trial lawyer alive, writes: “Like most old men looking back, I tend to forget the major regrets in my life. Mine may have been in becoming a trial lawyer in the first place. I learned how to try cases by failing.” Gerry Spence, Regrets, I’ve Had a Few, ABA Litigation, Vol. 41 No. 2, Winter 2015 (emphasis added). There is great power in failure – so long as you take the time to learn from your mistakes and decrease the chances of failing next time. The practice of law is just that, a practice. Oftentimes, the only way to improve that practice is by being bold enough to try something new and not letting the fear of failure prevent you from finding victory in a place you otherwise may have avoided for apprehension of failing on the way there.
- It does get (somewhat) easier…I think.
As a superfluous appendage of that last part, I can comfortably say this job does eventually start to get somewhat easier. The drawback is that you have to work really hard before you start to se the light. You have to take a lot of blows on the chin before you learn to keep your guard up.
- A healthy lifestyle makes everything else possible.
I love the practice of law – being a lawyer. I have no regrets about the life I’ve chosen. At the same time, I really wish someone would have sat me down beforehand and told me just how much work it would be. You have to love the practice to provide effective representation because you must want it more than the lawyer sitting on the other side of the courtroom. To be good requires long hours, dedication, and sometimes, just the right amount of insanity. None of which is possible without a healthy lifestyle. The secret formula for the young lawyer is: eat healthy; sleep enough; exercise five times a week; and learn the art of knowing when enough is enough, i.e. respect moderation in order to be able to tolerate extremes.
- Communication is key.
During my annual review, I was given the sandwich: “Your legal writing has improved immensely, your bringing in business – something most first-year associates do not do – but…”
“Oh God” I thought to myself, “here it comes.”
“You have to communicate more – ask more questions!”
“That’s it?” I quietly thought to myself? In order to overcome this one essential piece of constructive criticism, I knew I had to conquer my biggest innate fear: the appearance of ignorance. With introspection and more feedback, I realized I was actually doing more harm to my career and myself by straying from asking the simple questions. No matter what phase in life you find yourself in, the old adage never grows dull: there is no such thing as a stupid question.
- You gatta have faith…
There is no substitute for faith. Faith in a higher purpose. Faith in the power of love. Faith in the inherent goodness of humanity. Faith in God. I would never have made it this far without my one true guiding light; my belief in God and His undying and unyielding presence in our lives. There is no such thing as a good day without taking the time to give thanks to Him for this beautiful gift we call life. We are blessed in more ways than we will ever know because no matter how difficult this journey becomes, He is always there –believing in us, ready with open arms to catch us when we fall, and thankfully, loving us no matter what.