People gripe that law school doesn’t teach you how to be a lawyer. My law school did. I went to a school that taught black letter law. We didn’t do a lot of theory. We learned how to take and pass the New York State bar so we could get jobs and you know, do lawyer things. My law school taught me where stuff was in a library and how to write. We had a lot of clinics so people learned how to represent clients and even if you didn’t do moot court there were competitions and other venues for trying out your hand in a courtroom or appellate setting. I learned what I needed to learn. They gave me every opportunity for practical training and I took it.
I started interning at the District Attorney’s office my first year. I was in the Appeals Bureau so I didn’t get a ton of courtroom action. But I was able to go and sit in on trials, and do some things in local courts now and again. But I did learn even more law. Lots and lots of law. I learned what good, persuasive writing is. I learned that judges are human beings and that there is this thing called ‘the very bad man rule’ which simply means that if a guy is accused (and at the point they got to me, convicted) of doing something very bad, appellate courts will find a way to keep him in jail. No matter how right the defense is. I had great mentors guiding me every step of the way. I tried my first case the summer of my second year of law school. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever done. But I made it through and I scored my first conviction. (Honestly, it was one of my only ones. I got terrible cases and was a terrible prosecutor. I should have known then it wasn’t what I was meant to do.)
Fast forward a bunch of years to my days as a criminal defense attorney working under the guidance of a formidable man, Terry Kindlon. Man was he scary. And demanding. But he ran a business and he ran it well. It made money. He had a nice office and people worked for him. I mean, I worked for him. He wasn’t a solo and he wasn’t a medium sized firm. He had what I wanted. I just needed to figure out how to get there.
You know how I got there?
No, really. Do you?
I am asking because I have no idea how this happened. One day I couldn’t get a job with the DEA after I was ready to come back to work (true story) and then BAM I have an office that (sometimes) makes money and I have people who work for me. I run a law business.
And this, my friends, is what law school didn’t really teach me. It didn’t teach me how to treat employees. It didn’t teach me about putting money away for personal withholdings or whatever it’s called. It didn’t teach me about office meetings or white boards or how to properly make a ‘compliment sandwich.’ I learned this from being in the trenches. I’ve been an underling, I know what it feels like and I know the things I hated and the things I said I would never do. I know it the same way a young, rebellious teenager knows she will NEVER EVER EVER be like her parents because they are THE ABSOLUTE WORST EVER AND DON’T UNDERSTAND HER AT ALL.
Yup. Let me be clear about what it is I am saying. I have become one of them. I do a lot of the things I thought I would never do because I thought they were horrible and terrible and made me feel horrible and terrible. But it turns out they were actually very good for me. Working my ass off, not knowing what would come at me next, having to expect the unexpected made me a better lawyer and a better boss. I hated having my jeans on and then having the bossman say he didn’t feel like going to court so I needed to cover. Doesn’t he understand I have things I need to do? Doesn’t he get that I have a life? Why does he even still work at all if he doesn’t want to go to court.
Hahahaha. I laugh at 29 year old me. I mean, I laugh every single time I say those exact same words.
Now I see it was good for me. Sometimes I think I use the idea that it was good for me as justification for sending others. But then when I really meditate on it and think about what makes someone who they are the truth is that all of our experiences make us who were are. I would not be the lawyer and boss I am right now if not for what I went through. And if, according to some sources, I am not terrible at either being a lawyer or a boss, some of my experiences had to contribute to that, right?
I yell at my employees. I really do. I sometimes will say things like “And you are the smart ones, what do other people do who have legit dumb people who work for them?” But then I tell them, when they fail at communication, that as long as they communicate an issue to me, they take it off of them and put it onto me. If I don’t know because they don’t tell me something, it will remain their fault (and people seriously dislike blame.) If they tell me and I fail to take action, well, that’s on me. I tell them don’t ever give me the chance to yell at you when something doesn’t get done. Let me take the hit for it. These are things I learned from the very folks that made me feel like crap for a good portion of my law learning years. And I am thankful for it.
And now, I willingly subject others to this same rigorous law business training program. Because someday the people who sit in the cubicle in my small suite of offices might grow up to be like me and I want them to have the skills they need to raise up another generation of lawyers who are committed to doing right by clients.
The way to do right by clients is to care about how you do what you do. Do it with professionalism and excellence. And sometimes tell your employees they need to cover court so you can catch a movie. And let them know, what goes around comes around.