Here’s the full question (and it’s a good one):
What three things would you tell your younger self, if you could go back in time, or your daughter in the future, to resolve about themselves when trying to decide whether law is the right career?
I’ve answered this question, in one form or another, on a regular basis over the years, but hadn’t considered it in the context of my daughter or my younger self.
These days, I recommend that you resolve the following things:
1. The source and focus of your creative energy and your need and form for expressing your creative impulse and yourself. The practice of law might actually be the best place for you, but you’ll want to determine whether the practice of law will enable you to express your art or whether it will stifle it. If the latter, it’s better to walk away sooner than later. If you are born to play the guitar in a band, riffing through law books will never satisfy you.
2. What ways do you really want to help others. The best lawyers I know start their answers to the question “Why do you like to practice law?” with the words “I like to help people . . . .” As in #1, if you get this right, you can thrive in the practice of law. If you don’t resolve it, you will always feel something tugging at you that will pull you away from the practice of law.
3. Is it really you and not someone else doing the choosing? Are you going to law school to please parents, boy friend or girl friend, spouse, teacher or even some idealized image you have of yourself. I admire today’s law students because they really think about what they are doing and make a conscious choice to become lawyers. The promise of this new generation of lawyers is, therefore, immense, assuming that we don’t irretrievably wreck the profession before it gets into their hands. Talk to lawyers of my era and you’ll hear more about “the economy was bad,” “I followed my then girl friend” and “I wasn’t sure what else to do” than you would ever expect. That’s part of the reason you’ll find very talented people who have left the practice to do other things rather than stay in the profession and try to make changes.
There are other things, of course, that are more practical. I recommend getting a part-time job at a law firm, learning about the various types of law practice and the everyday realities of the work, and generally doing your homework.
In retrospect, however, I most wish that I would have had the opportunity to work with someone like my career counselor and coach Pat Bush at that younger stage. I might have ended up doing the same things, but I would have had a better understanding why and they would have been my choices, made for solid reasons. Most of us have approached careers as a form of improvisation, which, given the impact of career on your life, is probably not the wisest thing to do.
Finally, I’d want to say to my daughter that our attempts to help you, as wacky as they might seem, are made with the best intentions and based on the best of what we know. We ask that you consider them carefully, but ultimately make your own decisions – for you and not for us. In all events, we love you, are proud of you and want you to know that you have earned our respect for your judgment and choices that you make. Of course, I’m from a small town in Indiana and it is far easier for me to write something like that than ever to say it out loud. But, I’m trying to learn.