« True Confessions (or "Do I Really Need to Tell Them About That?") | Main | In-House Counsel: Sound Interesting? »


Lawyers rarely get to field easy questions. Clients willing to pay hundreds of dollars an hour for lawyering will solve their simple problems and then pay handsomely for solutions to the Big Ones. Pro bono cases that go to a Supreme Court were not resolvable along the way. Whether at work or at a cocktail party, the "one quick question" more often than not is a case of first impression -- by definition, a hard question.

If all of the questions are HARD QUESTIONS, how do you prepare for your first legal job? After 16+ years of sucess at pre-legal education with clear directions, well-lit signposts and consistent recognition and rewards, how can you be expected to work without a roadmap? Isn't law practice like working without a net?

Not exactly. There is a roadmap and a net, but the nature of law practice often means that you will have a hand in drawing the map and weaving the net. Neither will be handed to you in the same way that your TORTS syllabus was posted on the web.

CLARITY FROM A WISE HIRING PARTNER: After being peppered with questions about preparation from his incoming summer associates, one very wise Hiring Partner said, "Part of how we evaluate you is on your ability navigate ambiguity and to figure out how to solve a problem." He was delighted to be welcoming, but unwilling to draw a detailed roadmap with instructions for specific tasks which he believes are more appropriatly learned by doing real work and solving real problems.

There is no "teacher's guide" to law practice. The hard questions that lawyers work on every day require:

1. Focus on the client, whether an internal senior attorney or external paying or pro bono client.

2. Ability to look at the problem through the client's eyes and not necessarily through the lawyer's lens. A client needs an evaluation of the problem and a recommendation for action. "I couldn't find anything on point" is neither an evaluation or a recommendation.

3. Willingness to consider the work product as the ultimate customer will use it. If the client or judge will read a paper document, you must read and edit a paper version before sending out, even if you will use an electronic delivery method.

4. Willingness to accept criticism and to interpret a new language of praise. Lifetime High Academic Achievers may have had life-long "critique" from teachers, friends and family that looks like this: "A+; excellent analysis; well-done!" Work is a new world with different standards. Sometimes you'll know that you're doing well if no one is yelling at you. At other times, the "atta-boy!" or "atta-girl" will be all of the timely feedback you'll get on a project.

Your ability to navigate this new world -- to weave the net and draw the map that help you find the norms and your comfort zone within them -- will be one measure of your success.