Congratulations, Tom! You are about to complete your legal education and strike out into the world of practice. Looking back over the past 30 years, I would like to share a few ideas to help you find success in your career.
First things first: you will love the practice of law. You will meet some of the most interesting, passionate, talented and generous people on earth. And you’ll have the chance to work on some cool legal problems along the way.
Cherish the relationships you form with colleagues. Invest in them and take the time to listen to others. Surround yourself with mentors, friends and colleagues from all areas of practice who challenge you and your perspective. If you do that, you will never stop growing.
I get that you are in a rush — both to learn how to practise law and to repay the financial debts you have accumulated. But don’t miss the chance to broaden your perspective. In the end, spending time on a secondment or even taking a year off will not interfere with the arc of your career in the law. It will only enhance it.
Find your purpose. The practice of law is wonderful if you have one, but it’s a very hard grind if you do not. Happily, the law offers the widest possible scope to find meaning. Yours will be in the courts. (Though that’s hardly the only path to professional happiness.) Be the best advocate for your clients and the rest will look after itself.
Remember that you can only control one thing: your attitude. So be positive! Do not give up and do not give in, even if your first legal job isn’t what you thought it would be or when the days are filled with problems. The wonder of legal practice is the breadth of the opportunities it presents and the fact that for each bad day, there will be countless good ones.
Mistakes are part of your work. You will make plenty (I still do). You will learn that mistakes can be corrected and that some of your most enduring professional relationships will be found over the making and solving of mistakes. If you are willing to listen to and help someone who made an error in judgment, you will discover that when you need support it will be there for you.
I know you didn’t really know any lawyers before you started law school. The legal profession is large and can be intimidating. There are barriers that can feel insurmountable at first. But there are many kind and generous members of this profession who will welcome you with open arms. Seek them out and, once you’re established, remember to help the new members of the profession who may think they cannot fit in.
Finally, do good. Lawyers are an important part of a free and democratic society and it is vital that you stay informed and participate in the debates, issues, cases and conversations that involve our justice system. You have chosen to do something interesting with your life and you will never regret that. Good luck and have fun!