Quite often, when I compliment when of my daughters on something she’s done well, the other will chime in “But mommy, aren’t I good at that too?” My response, of course, is that praising one of my girls doesn’t diminish how I feel about the other.
More frequently these days, I find myself in this situation with my blog. Often, my advocacy of solo practice is often regarded as a put down of large firms, a perception that is corroborated by my criticism of many large firm practices (such as bloated billing rates, elistist views and fast and loose conflict of interest standards to keep clients post-merger). But in truth, I don’t hold a grudge against large firms; I believe that they’re a great career choice if that’s where you can find your passion. Unfortunately, many don’t, but some do.
A few months ago, I read Mark Herrmann’s The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Practicing Law. Herrmann is a partner and litigator at a large firm. The book offers a biglaw partner’s perspective on issues relevant to success at large firms and the legal profession in general, such as what associates should do to avoid failure, how lawyers should serve clients and some tips on marketing. (also, the chapter, The Curmudgeon Argues is the best 10 pages I’ve ever read on preparing for an oral argument). But what stands out about the book, in addition to the blunt tone (which is part of the curmudgeonly persona), is Herrmann’s passion for what he does. Consider this passage when Herrmann writes about why he loves his work:
I’ll quote a movie. Joe Gideon, the tightrope walker in “All That Jazz” was asked why he risked his life every day for his career. He answered “To be on the wire is life. The rest is waiting.”
That’s the life of a litigator too. When I’m engrossed in the law, I’m alive. I’m engaged; I’m attentive, I’m focused. I can tell you now, decades later and with almost pathological recall, lines of questions that worked and others that didn’t at my earliest trials. I can tell you the one time an appellate judge asked me a question I hadn’t anticipated. I can tell you when, after wrestling with an insoluble issue for months, I finally saw the light. Maybe those great events don’t happen often enough, but when they do happen, they’re unspeakably good. To be on the wire is life; the rest is waiting.
My desire for all of us, myself included, is that we feel the same as Herrmann about what we do. If like, Herrmann, you’ve found passion in biglaw, then stand proud. But if you’re still searching for meaning, for a “life on the wire,” starting a law firm may be one place to look. It’s not the only place, or the best place – but it may be the place for you.
Editor’s Note: The LPM Committee of the DC Bar is sponsoring a session, Putting Practice Back into the Passion of Law, February 22, 2007, 12-1:30. Visit DC Bar website at www.dcbar.org for more details (see events to register).