A Love Letter to Baby Lawyers

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Public

Ah, yes, the Baby Lawyer™. The finished product of the intense demands of law school, crisp diploma freshly in hand, joining the fray of the courtroom or the boardroom, ready and oh-so-willing to tackle each and every problem he or she is about to face. So full of life and hope, chock full of caselaw, best practices, tidbits from internships, faculty blessings and encouragement, and an undying love for the Oxford comma. We are blindingly sure that all of our preparation will be enough as we strut into the hallowed halls of the legal profession, away from the strictly regimented last three years . . . and its safety net of office hours and a curved grading scale.

I can say with some certainty that the baby lawyer experience is relatively similar throughout the generations. Some new attorneys begin in the proverbial “mail room,” getting coffee, delivering senior attorney mail, and living in a three by three foot cubicle that they have determined to make their own with pictures of friends and motivational quotes from Target. Baby Lawyer is our name, legal research is our game, and we have embraced “other duties as assigned” as our personal motto.

Some First Year Associates (i.e. the Baby Lawyer With A Title) may have a trial by fire. They will be handed a brown accordion folder, a case of their very own.

“Thank you, I’ll take care of this right away.”

As soon as the file is handed over, and the senior attorney leaves the room/gray foam-walled box (with or without a knowing smirk, depending, most likely, on their own Baby Lawyer experience), a few things become glaringly obvious. First, this matter appears in a jurisdiction outside the baby lawyer’s comfort zone, explores a nuanced or undecided area of law, or is otherwise a difficult or impossible case. The Baby Lawyer, still processing the actual existence of a case in hand, considers these things and has a decision to make: Get annoyed or get to work. And if we know anything about the Baby Lawyer in 2019, especially those lucky enough to be Golden Eagles, they will refill their obscenely-large coffee, open their preferred legal search site, and start reading.

As the new attorney hones their practice and finds their voice in the field, they may begin to prefer some areas of law over others. While one would think this selection process would happen during law school, not all practice areas are taught extensively in school and certainly not in the context of every other practice area. For example, a research project may arise in which the Baby Lawyer must explore the nuances of advertising law in a non-profit setting. The rules governing these types of businesses are strict and unyielding, at both the state and federal levels, with the consequences as harsh as losing one’s charitable status.

As separate areas of focus, the Baby Lawyer could deftly navigate these waters. The caselaw is well-established and the compliance is black and white. However, crafting a situation-specific, thoughtful opinion, without compromising the business goals of the organization — and while juggling the demands of several non-legal teams, deadlines from senior leadership, and one’s own standards for personal work product — allows the Baby Lawyer to shed the down feathers of law school and learn to fly. Despite the currently-fashionable perception of our generation, we do not need to be pushed out of the nest; it is in our nature to want to leap and, given the opportunity and a little good advice, we will soar.

To most people, this sounds insane. You worked your tuchus off for three years to now work 80-hour weeks to come just a hair closer to winning your case? You haven’t had a meal that wasn’t takeout in a week (nor a decent manicure in twice that long) on the off-chance the senior partner will recognize your name on a brief? The answer, and the only answer there will ever be, is a solid and unwavering yes. This is the gig. This is the thrill of the chase. The legal team’s pack-tactic hunt for the next clue, case, or conclusion to secure another notch on your firm’s belt. The Baby Lawyer’s contribution is their blind naiveté, their unadulterated (and unjaded) view of the law as the ultimate answer, solution, and grand finale. There is a certain drama to still be found in research, the pursuit of perfection is still strong, and the impossible cases never seem insurmountable.

As he or she learns to speak legalese, the Baby Lawyer begins to replace lesser-used Latin phrases with names of referable colleagues, local judges before whom they will appear (and notes on any adverse demeanors), and the newest locales for client dinners. Before long, the Baby Lawyer is all grown up, bringing in business, making decisions independently, and the next group of bright-eyed, newly-christened counsel enters the fold. The cycle continues and the legal professional continues to thrive off this new optimism, enthusiasm, and, of course, the sheer stubbornness of the Oxford comma.

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