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    September 14th, 2011

    I’d rather be a hammer than a nail
    Yes, I would if I only could, I surely would…

    Lyrics and Music by Daniel Alomía Robles, recorded by Simon and Garfunkel.

    Pitt Law

     

    I have just returned from an invitation from Anthony C. Infanti, Associate Dean for Academic Affairs, University of Pittsburgh School of Law  and Keeley P. Mitchell, Esq, 
Director of Public Interest and Government Relations at Pitt Law, to participate in a panel for the University of Pittsburgh 2nd year law students on legal career prospects.  In my humble opinion, this discussion attempted to answer the question: “Why stay in Law School, given the current economic climate?” Accordingly, I thought I would write down my thoughts on why the current cohort of students should consider staying in law, doing my best to also include and summarize the comments of the other panel members (any misquotes or errors are mine, not those of the respective learned panel members!).  In addition to the Associate Dean Anthony C. Infanti, who moderated the discussion and your humble scribe, the panel consisted of:

    • Robert Denney, the President of Robert Denney Associates, Inc.,
    • Michael Ginsberg, a Partner in the Trial Practice of Jones Day,
    • Erin M. Lucas, an associate Manion McDonough & Lucas, P.C. and the President of the Allegheny County Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Division,
    • Catherine Martin, a managing attorney for Neighborhood Legal Services Association in Pittsburgh, PA.,
    • Gabriel Reis, an in-house attorney for Alcoa Inc. and
    • Mark Vouno, the ACBA President-Elect and  a partner in Vuono & Gray, LLC.

    First, a career in law offers you not just a job – it offers you much more.  Your legal career has the possibility of working on novel and fascinating work that continually changes and brings you in touch with bright and interesting people.  You learn about new things all the time.  It is an intellectual exercise that can captivate your skills, your intellectual faculties and can result in achieving some real and meaningful results for people – and allows you to be,  in every respect of the word, a legal professional and not someone who just has a legal job.

    Of course all this is premised on one very important assumption – namely that you are, and remain, passionate about the work that you do.  I think this one factor, over all, spells satisfaction with not only a legal career but indeed any other career. Accordingly, if you are not passionate about working in the law or the job that you have working in the law – if your motivation(s) for seeking out the law are more closely aligned to a big paycheck or similar themes, then I would hazard a guess that ultimately a legal career will not be satisfactory to you.

    Bob Denney noted that in his consulting he has seen many examples of  those who are unhappy doing what they are doing but who do not know what to do about it – they feel trapped.  His advice is to start to plan your career now rather than later – when it may be too late.

    In my view, any real satisfaction that you get from your legal career comes from an innate sense of helping people by doing work for which you have a passion.  The financial rewards that you achieve are as a result of doing a good job helping people. As such, the first priority is finding a position that resonates with you and with what drives you – by doing work that you like and find interesting.

    For example, Catherine Martin made a point that, when it comes to public service law, she is looking for someone for whom doing public service work is a ‘calling’ (my words not hers).  So start your search early – look into yourself, ask some tough questions about what you like to do and then start trying to match those answers up with firms who practice in certain areas. One example that I know is a young lawyer who loved horses – so she started a law practice in the horse and veterinary legal areas (who knew there was so much legal work connected with horses?).

    Target the law that you wish to do and then start to find firms that practice that area..and try to get on their radar screen. How? Use social media!  The best way I know of is to start working in that area – by building a blog and start getting known for your interest in a certain area.  Omar Ha-Redeye was a law student in Canada that started a blog as a student on health and reputation management law (he is now a called lawyer) and this blog gave him immense exposure well before he graduated and led to his being included in award-winning legal blogs as www.slaw.ca.  You can see Omar’s blog here.

    Michael Ginsberg stated that law firms don’t hire for skills – they hire for aptitude.   Ultimately your success as a lawyer will depend on many factors such as people skills that are just as important as your legal skills.  Firms are looking for attributes such as drive and commitment. Michael stated that in hiring law students, law firms would look to see if you worked – volunteering or otherwise – in the legal field during your school years and in the summer to try to gain experience in working in the law.  He also stated that it is important to start networking and that the local bar associations are a great way to meet people and start to form associations.  People do things for people that they like!

    Mark Vouno and Erin M. Lucas carried on that theme of bar associations – they can offer a young lawyer contacts, resources and much more. The Young Lawyer sections in particular are great places to start to work with the bar associations and get known to a wider group of lawyers.  Mark stated that it is vital that you do what you enjoy – he loves the private practice of law and derives a great deal of satisfaction from this.  Erin noted that her practice includes acting on aviation accident cases that are oftentimes more like a law school exam with multiple issues to sort out and consider – and which she finds engaging and rewarding and the high point of her work.

    Gabriel Reis carried the torch for working in-house for a corporate legal department.  For those having a business interest, this can lead to some very interesting work where you can combine your business acumen with the law in a mixed business/law environment.  Companies are not just looking for just legal advice – they are looking to further their business interests.  As such, they are seeking lawyers who can see the business strategy implications of legal decisions and can advise accordingly.

    To take a page from David H. Maister in “True Professionalism”, he states that few professionals have a ready answer to questions such as these:

    • What do you want to do next?
    • Where would you like to be three years from now?
    • What kind of clients would you like to have in three years?
    • What kind of work would you like to be doing in three years?
    • What next career challenge would you find most exciting?

    Accordingly, start your career plan now so you can hit the ground running by figuring out what you want and then build a plan to get you there. How can you do this? There is a great new post on the website “The Savvy Intern” on Get a Job at Graduation: A Career Plan for College Students.

    In my view, you can go one of two paths…look for a job or look for a challenging career in law that can bring multi-faceted satisfaction by doing work that is truly meaningful to you.  Just looking for a job seems to me to be akin to being a nail…firms will always need lawyers who can work hard and grind out the work.  But if you are looking for a passionate, meaningful career – where you are in control of your future – then I would look for a place in law where you are scoping out your future and reaching out to it – akin to being a hammer – driving your career the way that you would want it to unfold. This possibility – of being in charge of a meaningful career that seeks to help others by doing work for which you have a passion – is the reason to stay in law.  Ultimately the choice is yours.

    This entry was posted on Wednesday, September 14th, 2011 at 11:23 am and is filed under Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Tips, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

    7 Responses to “Why Stay in Law School? Advice to Law Students”
    1. Bob Denney Says:

      Dave,

      A fine precis of the discussions and thoughtful additions from you – as always.

      Bob Denney

    2. Stephen P Gallagher Says:

      David:
      Congratulations on having participated in this much overdue conversation.

      I agree with you that law school can provide individuals with many skills that can be helpful in any of a number of occupations. Unfortunately, many young people choose law school for all the wrong reasons. Graduating from college with a high grade point average, and having aced your LSAT exam has nothing to do with having the “calling” your panelists talked about.

      The number of Baby-Boomer attorneys who will be retiring in the next ten years will be staggering, so “Access to Justice” will be a major concern for the profession throughout North American. If young attorneys are not interested in filling this void, non-lawyers will fill in this gap.

      I would advise the second year class from Pittsburgh or anywhere else, to start forcing your law schools to teach practical skills courses. There will be opportunities for young attorneys in more rural areas of the country for years ahead – if and when law schools start teaching practical skills.

      Unfortunately, I don’t know when you will be able to pay off your loans, but with the right “calling” you should be able to provide needed services to the under-served throughout the world. This can be a very satisfying “calling”.
      SPG

    3. admin Says:

      Thanks Steve and Bob!

      I agree that the demographics are working in favour of the upcoming law school graduates. They may think the current economic downturn is the end of life as they know it…but economic downswings eventually turn around. Those that are prepared for the upswing benefit from the increased activity – provided that they follow the advice of the Boy Scouts: “Be Prepared!”

      Paying off the loans will happen provided you find work – best that you find work that you enjoy and find challenging rather than just another job.

      The ‘calling’ that you mention Steve will be a major component in whether the current graduating group stays in law..toughs it out..or goes looking elsewhere. I hope the ones that are left feel the draw to the law for the ‘right reasons’.

      Cheers and thanks,

      Dave

    4. Omar Ha-Redeye Says:

      Thanks for the mention. I’ll be launching several sites focusing on specific areas in the coming months.
      You’re absolutely right though that my web presence has created incalculable opportunities.

    5. Right Career for me Says:

      Right Career for me…

      [...]David Bilinsky – Thoughtful Legal Management[...]…

    6. Al Says:

      I read this entire article and while it was extremely informative and very helpful, I must say that the best advice I got my 1L year was from an upperclassman. He suggested I follow along in my classes with an outline from a previous semester. Most professors teach the same way, almost word for word, semester after semester, so a solid outline is extremely beneficial. I uploaded my old ones to this site http://www.outlines.com/ so you’ll find plenty there to start with!

    7. Claude Mendelson Says:

      You seem to have have failed to mention that there are twice as many JDs being created as there are positions for attorneys. The Bureau of Labor Statistics Projects that 73,800 new attorney jobs will be created during the 2010-2020 decade. Meanwhile, over 450,000 JDs will be created throughout that period, each with an average of nearly $100,000 in debt. Your argument amounts to two things: network, and plan ahead. All the networking and planning ahead will do nothing when one out of two people will not get jobs as an attorney, as there are twice as many attorneys as there are positions as attorney.

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