As you emerge from the primordial soup

I was recently watching a documentary on Netflix about the great Wildebeest migration in Africa and I learned that Wildebeest calves learn to walk within minutes of birth and are able to keep up with the herd within days. 

Of course, this made me think of lawyers. Specifically, how becoming a lawyer is really a great analogy for being human. Does that seem odd?

See, the thing is, as a lawyer, you do not emerge from law school fully-formed. As a new lawyer, you are like a human baby, unable to walk. Unable to feed or care for yourself. You are completely dependent on your superiors for your care and upbringing.

As a new lawyer, the habits and skills that you learn in the first few years of practice can make or break you as you become more senior. You hope that you can rely on your superiors, just like parents, to teach you the proper rules and etiquette and lead you on the path to independence. But, of course, it doesn’t always happen that way. We are all fond of saying that lawyers are terrible managers, but what does that really mean? Sometimes it means that they’re just really bad at dealing with HR issues, but sometimes it means that they are incompetent to be supervising other lawyers. Either their own self-interest makes it impossible for them to take the time to teach you how to do something properly, or maybe (and I think this happens more often than not) they never actually learned the proper way and so their bad habits are now your bad habits.

There’s a fundamental difference between lawyers who are “raised” by the likes of June Cleaver and those who are “raised” by Ozzy Osbourne. My personal opinion is that too many Ozzys have been unleashed upon the lawyers of the world and so we can decry the lack of civility in practice and wax eloquent about a “simpler time”, but the reality is that we’re drawn to the bad-boy image. The rockstar personas. The people who just don’t follow the crowd.

However, IMHO, a profession built on the notion of stare decisis cannot be a profession that is filled with rock stars. We need intelligent and hard-working people who are willing to sacrifice their pride in order to get shit done.

Anyway, I’ve gone a bit off topic, but the point is that we all need each other. We do not emerge from law school as a final product. Like a human baby learning to walk, it takes a long time and a lot of practice and a few bumps along the way to figure out how to put one foot in front of the other and not fall down. Make the years and the time that you spend learning worthwhile by spending time with lawyers who hold themselves to the high standards to which they hold everyone else. Ask all of the questions. Learn the rules properly so you can break them with principled conviction. Don’t be a victim of your circumstances. If you work somewhere that is not providing you with meaningful opportunities for practice, then find somewhere else. If you work for people who don’t care about you or your development, then care enough about yourself to seek out people who will guide you.

If we want to be part of a profession that we can all be proud of, we have to take responsibility for ourselves and for those coming after us. Learn. Teach. Repeat.

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