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Preparing for a Life in the Law Unimagined and Uninvented

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Next week, I’ll be speaking about the starting a law firm option at Georgetown Law School here in Washington D.C.  This is my fourth law school presentation this year.  Yet the more I improve on, and deliver this talk, the more I wonder myself: how can we prepare students for a life in the law that they’ve never imagined, and indeed, may not yet be invented?

You’d think that I would know the answer to this question.  After all, as I tell students, so many of the matters that I handle today weren’t even a glint in anyone’s eye back when I was in law school.  Marine renewable energy and renewable portfolio standards and smartgrid hadn’t yet been invented, nor had social media and the ethics and compliance issues that it’s generated both for lawyers and regulated industries.  I didn’t write my first blog post until I was 38 years and thirteen years out of law school, yet blogging has given me a platform and a voice to comment on the changes in the legal profession.  What if I’d left the law by then, or chosen the big-law, partnership track like so many of my law school friends? I’d have missed out on something seemingly made for me.  

I can tell students how to plan a law practice, how to draw up checklists and make choices about where to locate and how to find clients.  I can help them view solo practice as a logical choice that holds much opportunity.  The day to day stuff, the getting-things-done and moving step by step – that I can talk about in my sleep.  But how do you identify and seize opportunity?  How do you know how long to keep waiting? How many chances do we get to succeed?  And how to we plan for a future that we cannot imagine because it hasn’t yet been invented?  Help me out readers.

  • I was just pondering this very question with a friend last night. Unfortunately we didn’t find an answer. The best we could come up with was something like this: “As long as you’re happy doing what you’re doing, keep chugging away and the opportunities for growth will come along. If you’re not happy, you’re still on the hunt for opportunities, just in another field or area of practice.”

    I guess everything’s really an opportunity, but they usually only appear as such in retrospect. Only the huge choices smack you in the face at the time they present themselves and say “I am an opportunity!” Failing that declaration, I think you can teach the tools necessary to seize opportunities – network, respect others, work hard, etc. – but not necessarily what to do with said opportunities. For every 100 people presented with the same opportunity, you’ll probably get 75 who will let it pass them by, and the other 25 will run with it in 25 different directions – and that’s the beauty of it!

    Perfect timing with the post, Carolyn!

  • Guest

    When I graduated from law school in 1984, my plan was to practice FCC regulatory law. After all, the federal government never gets smaller, does it? Well, while true as a general observation, it does not always apply to individual agencies or regulatory practices. Fortunately for me, I kept my options open and worked in different areas of the law (there is some truth also to “admin law is admin law”). I also actively pursued my alternative interest in intellectual property law (prosecuting my first TM application pro bono to get the experience). Although I began practicing with an FCC regulatory firm (which no longer exists), within ten years of graduation, I was practicing almost entirely in IP / advertising law. My point is that you are absolutely correct to say that we cannot predict the manner in which the law and our practices are going to develop. In my opinion, the important things are to be flexible and to diversify. Never turn down an opportunity to learn something. You’ll never know when you might need it.

  • What will be key to success in the future as these students will live it? These sound like cliches, but each has a ring of truth and a long story behind it.
    Expecting the unexpected and standing up to it.
    Listening to hare-brained schemes, sorting out the good ones, and acting on them.
    Making mistakes, learning from them, and using them as springboards.
    Laughing out loud (in appropriate places.)

    Good luck with your speech.

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