There is a lot of discussion within the legal community about how law schools can (or should) prepare students for the business of practicing law. It is common to hear complaints about how young graduates do not understand how to run a practice, and that the law school faculty and administrators should better prepare them for the real world. I respectfully disagree.
There are so few times in our lives when we can truly immerse ourselves in the science of our profession. The years in law school expose us to intellectual experiences that may never be found in a private practice. The law school faculty is best equipped to challenge the law student’s mind in the most thought-provoking and critical ways. In law school, we learn how to write clearly, concisely, and persuasively. Law schools offer opportunities to study and understand fundamental legal rights that serve as the foundation for most legal disputes that arise within the practice. Learning about and discussing, in a critical and theoretical manner, constitutional rights or contract rights or procedural options instills a preliminary basis for everything we do as lawyers.
The best way to run a well-respected law practice is to demonstrate strong skills as a lawyer. You can’t do that unless you have obtained a good education – one that offers the type of critical legal analysis and knowledge that is acquired in school.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many pieces that need to fit together properly to run a successful law practice. I submit that a solid legal education is the first and arguably largest piece in the cog. A commitment to an ethical method of practice with a high level of integrity will naturally lead to the acquisition of the other pieces necessary to operate the machine we call a law practice.
We have a number of graduations to celebrate in our family this month, and there is a lot of excitement about the future. The buzz surrounding the start of a new and exciting chapter in the graduate’s life causes me to ask: Why don’t we join them and embrace the new and exciting things that could occur in our lives? I’m not talking about the concrete changes that we will see our graduates make — going off to a new school or starting a new job. I’m talking about creating our own changes to pave the way for a better professional future.
It’s not a bad idea to reflect upon our work as lawyers with an eye toward positive change. That change may be in the way we relate to our co-workers. That change may be in a new commitment to volunteer in the legal community. That change may be a commitment to incorporate a greater level of organization into our practice. That change may be a new routine to stay informed about recent developments in the law. That change may be taking time to become a better listener. That change may be setting aside time to appreciate how rewarding and stimulating our work is. It doesn’t really matter what the change is. The important thing is that we take this opportunity to reassess how we, like new graduates, can take affirmative action that will provide us with a new and fulfilling future.
I recently read a great quote from Mark Twain: “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the ones you did.” This is the type of statement hundreds of graduates will hear over the next few weeks. It’s time for all of us, new graduates and seasoned practitioners, to embrace this time of new beginnings.
It’s been a very long time since I’ve attended a CLE presentation and found myself absolutely riveted by the speaker and the content of his or her presentation. That happened on May 5 at the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Litigation, Dispute Resolution, and Appellate Practice Institute. The speaker was Egil “Bud” Krogh who served as White House counsel under President Richard Nixon from 1969 to 1973.
Sure his story is remarkable. He is one of the “White House Plumbers” who created and authorized one of the most infamous covert operations ever. His actions resulted in a criminal conviction, a six-month prison sentence, and later disbarment from the practice of law. This is where his story becomes important to me.
His time in prison and subsequent reflections on his years in the White House allows him to share a perspective about the importance of good and sound decision-making with a sense of integrity. Notwithstanding his actions in the early 1970’s, he is now able to lead by example and talk about how the pressure of our work, our relationships with co-workers, our need to address client demands, and our internal pressure to succeed can interfere with our need to maintain both personal and professional integrity.
He talks about the legal profession with a level of respect and, candidly, enthusiasm that is infectious and truly inspirational. He has lived through some tough life experiences that are certainly unique to him. Nonetheless, his message resonates with all of us. Thank you, Mr. Krogh, for sharing with us your recipe for how to make the right choices.
This has been a tough spring so far. This country has seen some of the most incredible natural storm devastation in history. While the economy is showing signs of improvement, there are far too many who continue to suffer. Politics reached all time levels of nastiness in this State, and the temperatures just can’t seem to jump higher than 55 degrees. So, how do we make sense of all of this on a professional level?
Personally, this news forces me to step aside from the day-to-day pressures of my law practice and think about how to make sure there is value in what we do. The practice of law is extremely rewarding. The work we do impacts people in ways that we can’t really imagine. The words we use to communicate, the guidance we provide, and the way we treat people in our professional and personal life should reflect an appreciation for goodness in what we experience, empathy about the news we receive, and joy for the happy moments we share with one another.
This is tough work, and we have a responsibility to own our behavior and understand its impact on others. We can allow all of these horrible events to drag us down or we can reflect upon all that is happening around us and find ways to encourage those who we work with and those we represent to deal with challenges with higher levels of empathy, grace and compassion. This does not mean we give up on strong advocacy. It means that we give more thought to how our message is delivered and its impact on those who receive it. Take the personal challenge of changing the environment around you by your words and your actions.