That’s a tough one because life has taken the rapid-fire approach to teaching lessons since I graduated from law school! One lesson my now deceased dear friend and law partner often repeated (tongue in cheek of course) that I have come to believe is: “the practice of law would be great, if we didn’t have to deal with clients, other lawyers, juries and judges!” When I sought advice on a case from another mentor she told me, “you know that sinking feeling you have in the pit of your stomach that you don’t know what you’re doing . . . get used to it . . . it never goes away.” So far, that little nugget is definitely proving to be true. However, entering the practice of law after toiling well more than a decade in a previous career, I think the most important lesson I’ve learned since graduating from law school is that the choices we make matter; whether it’s our career choices, practice areas, choosing family time over work time, or whatever. I consider it a remarkable privilege and blessing to genuinely enjoy my chosen profession and to wake up every morning excited about the day ahead rather than begrudgingly getting out of bed.
One lesson which is not taught in law school, but which is very important in the litigation practice, is the value of showing respect for the opposing side and their position, no matter how tenuous. Demonstrating that respect matters both in the courtroom and in the briefing. But it is equally important to carry that professionalism through to those times and places when the court is not watching, whether that be in the deposition room, in correspondence, or on the telephone. Finally, though it is more challenging to maintain one’s equanimity when that professionalism is not reciprocated, that it is when it perhaps matters the most. Such lessons were never taught in law school, but they are among the most important I have learned in the years since that time.
I went to law school on the premise that with a law degree I could easily transition into business. The reality is there are no OCI programs for these careers and few business recruiters will work with you straight out of school. To make the switch you have to be persistent, creative, bold, and resilient.
Many attorneys are excellent technicians and advocates, but a small number become their client’s trusted advisor. A lawyer in this privileged position must have a deep understanding of their client’s industry, business, and strategic plan, as well as share their client’s sense of urgency for their business. And, please, don’t let your client feel as though you are on the clock for every phone call/discussion.
When we began to practice law, it was more common for attorneys to start a job and stay there for an entire career. Our experience has been that attorneys have become more mobile and for us that has allowed us to achieve balance in our lives. The ability to pursue different opportunities over the years has helped us to strike the right balance between family and professional development.
There is no one road for a legal career. Today, more legal careers don’t involve working at a traditional law firm with client generation requirements or at government agencies. There are any number of roads an individual may take or even create to utilize the knowledge and training obtained during law school. Many innovative and creative individuals have developed and built numerous businesses, partnerships and other entrepreneurial opportunities that center around their interests and utilize their ambition and legal knowledge. As younger generations embrace law school, I am sure these new lawyers will continue forge new paths that surprise and delight many of us Baby Boomers and traditionalists left in the legal work force.
Focus on the positive and define your own success. While I cannot believe this will be my 30th reunion year, in the past three decades, I have left Ohio for New York; served the same law firm as an Associate, Partner, Hiring Partner, and now Of Counsel and Approving Partner; gained admission to the bars of Ohio, New York, California, various federal district and circuit courts and the Supreme Court of the United States; litigated novel issues in areas ranging from pharmaceutical product liability to Fortune 100 bankruptcies; mentored countless associates; and mothered two amazing sons. Throughout, by recognizing that I can control actions, but not outcomes, and by remaining true to my priorities and values, I have mostly managed to heed this lesson … though I never have enough time for all my priorities!
I am surprised about how much I can help make a difference in peoples’ lives by being a lawyer. In my energy law career, I have been able to help utility consumers – individuals, businesses, and Ohio school districts – save money on their energy bills and landowners in Appalachian Ohio protect their valuable mineral rights. Helping people in ways they are not able to do on their own is a unique skill set that lawyers possess, whether you are lucky as I have been to do so in your everyday work or through volunteer activities outside of your day at the office. That provides the most career satisfaction over the course of a long career.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned since law school is the value of balance. Happiness, excellence, and success often seem to result from striking the right degree of balance – for example, between work and leisure, technical explanations and everyday prose, sociability and solitude. It requires ongoing effort to find and maintain the equilibrium, but, for me, doing so helps in achieving personal and professional fulfillment.
It is the quality of the people who surround you that determines the success you will have in life generally and in the practice of law. I have been extremely fortunate to have worked at the same law firm for nearly 45 years. It is the lawyers and the non-lawyers who I have worked with that have made the practice of law so enjoyable and rewarding. This in turn leads to great friendships and loyal clients.