Meet New SPU Columnist – Jack Whittington, JD Candidate 2011

I’d like to introduce University of Tulsa, College of Law 3L and Texan Jack Whittington, Solo Practice University’s new monthly columnist.  While Jack is not necessarily going solo, the reason Jack has agreed to join the SPU community is because we share a common perspective about the ‘Millennial’ and the legal profession – there is room and there is work for lawyers who want to be part of this profession for the right reasons even though he and thousands like him will be graduating into a very uncertain professional future.

In spite of all the uncertainty, Jack is part of a new generation of lawyer-to-be who is ready to take on the challenges because they have to if they are to fulfill their desire to be a lawyer.  Starting November 11th and every second Thursday of the month thereafter, you’ll learn more about him as he chronicles his experiences as a 3L, begins the job hunt, takes the bar and plans his future. His column is aptly named, ‘Coming of Age in the New Economy.’

For now, here is the original column which started it all reprinted with permission:

Dear Legal Community, Enough With the Cynicism

by Jack Whittington, JD Candidate 2011

It seems like from the moment that I entered into law school I’ve been told by people in the legal community how much of a mistake it was to go to law school, or how tough it was going to be to get a job, or how the debt and the sacrifice just wasn’t worth it. Stop, just stop it, stop it now. No it’s not that I don’t want to face reality. I’m smart enough to know that finding a job in the Great Recession (by the way when did we start calling it this?) will be tough. I know now more than ever firms are hiring less and firing more. I know that while I may find a job out of school it will probably not pay near as much I need so that I’ll be able to realistically pay off my student loans in a timely fashion, and may be repaying these loans for the next 25 years or better, after all even President Obama struggled at times to finally pay off his student loans.

Additionally, while I’m up on my soap box I have a message for the legal publications running scores of articles deterring students from applying to law school and why such efforts are misguided. Newsflash! Odds are that if someone below the age of 25 is reading a legal publication, survey says they’re probably already in law school! A little too late for us to bail out now after we’ve already sunk hundreds of thousands of dollars into debt to go to law school in the first place. Even if we tried to get our money back it’s doubtful we would as one Boston College Law student is about to find out.

I get it, bottom line I get it. BUT did it ever dawn on any of you that maybe, just maybe many of us that did decide to take the plunge into law school didn’t do it for the money, fame or fortune, but we did it because we want to help others and make a difference? I see classmates around me everyday involved in legal aid, public defenders, and pro bono clinics that are doing the work because they enjoy it – not because they want the world to look at them and tell them what a great job they’re doing. I firmly believe that the Millennial Generation more than any other generation before us feels as a whole that we were put on earth to make a fundamental difference, and make the world a better place. We don’t need the people that screwed it up for us in the first place telling us how wrong or misguided our efforts are.

Rather than telling us how bad things are out there why don’t you start helping us clean this mess up? This generation will confront the perils of cyberbullying, racism, sexism, homophobia, and all manner of other social problems head on. Help us to make the world a better place for our children.

It has often been said that Generation Y will be the first American generation that has lower living standards than our parents. We acknowledge that and accept it as our challenge. We don’t need people dragging us down and making a bad situation worse. Deterring members of our generation from going to law school is not the answer, we just have to re-mold expectations and re-cast the role of a lawyer in today’s society.

As recently as 50 years ago, attorneys were viewed as pillars of the community, moral upstanding citizens that were seen as role modelS for civic duty. Now in 2010 attorneys are looked upon with disdain, mistrust, and sometimes open hostility. This must change. We must get back to the era of the lawyer being seen as model citizens rather than the ambulance chasing sharks that we are portrayed as today. How do we get back? I’m not sure, but I do know that deterring people from entering the legal profession certainly won’t help. If anything we need more Gen Y’ers to make the commitment, because it is going to take a BIG effort out of Millennials to right the ship for future generations. Don’t hamstring us at the starting line, help us get started.

Gen Y’ers will be faced with a massive federal deficit, the expiration of Social Security and Medicare, terrorism, global warming, and re-evaluating America’s role in the world. We need all the help we can get but at the same time we have to start looking out for the big picture now. Instead of asking whether or not we want to take on the debt and the burden law school brings, the question should be whether or not we’re prepared to meet the challenges that this generation will have to tackle. Those of you that say yes, damn the costs, take the LSAT and send those applications in. As for the debt – if there is one thing our parents and grandparents have taught us it’s that if you can’t pay for it, charge it.

Jack Whittington is a 3L at University of Tulsa, College of Law. A Native Texan, he and his high school sweetheart (now fiancee) have traveled the educational path together through high school, college, and now law school and will be graduating into the Great Recession.  Follow his journey. You can connect with Jack on Twitter, LinkedIN as well as subscribe to his blog, ‘World Wide Whit’. If you’d like to learn more about Millennials’ in their own words you can also follow his contributions at The Next Great Generation Blog.

All opinions, advice, and experiences of guest bloggers/columnists are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, practices or experiences of Solo Practice University®.

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16 comments on “Meet New SPU Columnist – Jack Whittington, JD Candidate 2011

  • Thanks for the very generous introduction Susan! I look forward to contributing to SPU and interacting with everyone. I’m always open for advice and suggestions so please don’t hesitate to comment on the material :-)

  • What a wonderful, spirited post! It’s time to bring back that “can-do” attitude. And, I’m very happy to see a member of a younger generation carry the torch.

    • Corinne – thank you so much – I often wonder when did we lose this “can do” attitude and develop this mentality of “they owe me” – maybe it’s a byproduct of living large for too long now. It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get back to work – we’ve been on vacation for far too long.

  • One consideration Jack & others of like mind might want to pass on to their friends not yet in law school: if you are not in this for the big bucks, consider carefully the price of what you’re getting. Some law schools cost far too much. Price-shopping makes sense and can affect your quality of life for a long time in the future.

  • From C.F. Collier

    Just had to reply to Jack Whittington:

    Dear Jack,

    Even when I started law school in 1984, I was told that there were not enough jobs and no one could make a living,etc. It probably is meant to discourage, and you might … might just find yourself doing the same thing when you’ve been out a few years and keep seeing the law school pump out new graduates like assembly line products. Whether you do or don’t, that fear-mongering has been around for awhile, so don’t feel singled out.
    What I really wanted to say to you is about your statements about “wanting to help people” and legal aid and all that good stuff. That is why I went to law school, Jack. I was not even young and idealistic:
    I was almost thirty when I started law school, was married to a lawyer who had worked on an Indian Reservation for legal aid, and I had been a lobbyist for social change organizations. I thought I could help people. And, if you surveyed most of my clients over the last twenty-some years, you would find that the vast majority said “yes” if you asked if I helped them. I have never made alot of money, and when I was young, that did not seem to be too important, but now I am mid-fifties and have less than $ 30,000 in retirement. Truthfully, I would be living in a trailer down by the river if I was not married to someone who had a good job and good retirement. So, say that you are able to get by on the small income of lawyers dedicated to good works, as many of them have, there is still a problem.
    The problem is that what you can actually “do” for people who need help is relatively small and does not usually solve the bigger problem. People who are poor when they walk in your door will still be poor when they walk out and (if you are in solo practice) they will be poorer. The vast majority of people who really NEED attorneys are poor, likely to be involved with drugs and alcohol, unemployed or underemployed, and/or (all the above) mentally ill or have personality defects.

    It is a great feeling to help a woman out of a domestic violence situation or help a disabled person file bankruptcy on old medical debts, etc., but, as my oldest daughter (a non-practicing law school grad) likes to remind me, my office would be better as a ministry than as work. Add that, Jack, people who do this work get burned out even under the best of circumstances. They get depressed. They get tired of constantly hearing about other people’s problems. They get tired of fixing the same
    problem over and over and over. My (probably cynical) words of advice for those in law school and those contemplating applying is that you have to, MUST DO three things: (1) establish an exercise routine: does not matter what it is: walk, run, bike, skip, play bb: JUST MAKE IT A HABIT NOW cuz you are going to need it; (2) LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS: it is a profession, like cleaning people’s teeth: start out now with the understanding that you are not God’s gift to mankind and that you deserve no better treatment than anyone else (this attitude will help prevent the overgrowth of bitterness); and (3) do not, do not,
    do not expect that what you experience in law school (even in clinic situations) is anything like the actual practice of law, because there is one element that is always missing in law school and never missing when you are out practicing: SOLE RESPONSIBLITY. If you screw up in Law school you get a bad grade, or there is someone with a bar admission who is truly in charge and they can fix it. Out of law school, if you screw up, it is not the potential financial liablity alone to be reckoned with. You also have to live with the fact that you made a mistake, possibly one that really hurt your client. People expect
    doctors to be emotionally upset if they lose a patient, but I had not been practicing more than three years when I lost my first client to suicide. There are more things, Jack, in heaven and on Earth, than are dreamt in your philosophy.

    Good luck.

    C.F.Collier, Esq.

  • C.F. – thank you for your thoughts and presenting them in a clear and reasonable manner rather than just lashing out as so many tend to do. There are so many thoughts that I have after reading this, I’m having a hard time digesting them all.

    I guess first, I would say thank you for the work you did put in – you’re right in that poor people are still going to be poor after they walk out your door – but they deserve help just like the Wall Street broker. Sure a lot of those people succumb to the perils of life, drugs, alcohol, etc. but someone has to extend a hand to those people and least provide them with a chance to dig themselves out of the hole. There are inherent problems within our government that deter people from wanting to improve their lot in life and settle because its easier. However, we can’t close those doors to those who do try to climb out of those conditions. We cannot write this segment of society off as a lost cause and I’m afraid that is where we are headed in this country. If everyone that ever said “One person can’t make a difference” actually believed the inverse of that statement, it’s staggering to think what we could accomplish.

    Now as for your three points of advice:

    1. Exercise – definitely, in the past year I have went from weighing 260lbs down to 195lbs – my mother has diabetes and I was on the fast track to that path at 24 – my doctor told me “you’re awful young to be having the problems you’re about to start having” it was either lose weight or wake up everyday knowing I had to prick my finger with a needle – that was enough to slap some sense into me. I feel better and exercise has been a great outlet to let out my frustrations when law school and life get to me.

    2. I respect what you are saying, and understand why you are saying it, but I respectfully disagree. I believe the problem with this country in general is that we have lowered our expectations. That mentality on a person to person scale has transcended into an overall mentality that gets projected into our national personality. I appreciate the ones that work in legal aid, public defenders and take on pro bono work – those are the warriors on the ground carrying out much needed work. But there is more to it than the small scale work – we have to work through community organizations and government to try to improve the system. We have for far too long just accepted that we have a flawed system and it can’t get better. It can get better, we can improve, and we have to get back to that mindset collectively as a country and it starts on an individual level. I hope that on some scale I can make a difference and encourage others to do the same rather than just “lowering my expectations” – maybe in 10 or 20 years I’ll look back on these words and realize how foolish I was, but God I hope not – its a very sad state of affairs when we’re forced to expect the worst and that it can’t get better.

    3. This is is the aspect of law that scares me the most admittedly. I interned at district court in the civil division this past spring and then for part of the semester this fall. I know there a no do-overs and that what I will do has a direct and often deep impact on people’s lives. The reality of dealing with a client committing suicide or other unthinkable acts is frightening – all I can do is my best and let the chips fall where they may.

    You are right I am only one person and fully acknowledge that there is a higher being who is in control and my philosophy on life falls short in so many ways from the plans of our creator. But I do pray that I am used in such a way to bring light to a dimming world.

    I am not naive – I know that for all of these lofty goals I have. I still have to take care of myself and my family emotionally and financially. Doing legal aid work and public defender work is not going to pay my bills or my loans and that really is unfortunate. As of this moment I have no clue exactly what I want do after graduation. I am going into my career search with an open mind and eyes wide open. Whatever it is I wind up doing, I do believe I can find a way to make a difference in some way.

    I went to law school to improve my quality of life and to break free of the paycheck to paycheck lifestyle that I was raised under. I don’t want my children to endure the hardship and sacrifice that I had to endure in my own life. But there is no reason that I can’t do both – I honestly believe there is a way to genuinely help people out there in meaningful ways and still be able to provide for myself and family so that we are least comfortable in our own lives.

    Thank you very much for your thoughts – it does make me think and wonder if my outlook needs to be adjusted or in what ways are they unrealistic. But I’m going to choose to keep believing – its the only thing I can do. It’s just the way I’m wired. I have always hoped for a better tomorrow, but we have to get off our butts to create that tomorrow – too many of us are sitting around staring at each other wondering who’s going to step up.

    Godspeed and Best Wishes,

    - jack

  • Thank You! It’s really nice to know that the younger generation has such a positive, yet realistic approach to the future.
    Jo Williams

  • Thank You! It’s refreshing to see such a positive (yet realistic) view from our younger generation.

  • This is a great article. Hopefully this will encourage others to also roll up their sleeves and get down to business instead of sitting around waiting on handouts. If you want something done, do it yourself attitude of yours will be a refreshing attitude for a change instead of the whining we hear all too often. Most definitely looking forward to your next article. Thanks for the positive attitude, AMERICA needs its! Anita Dial

  • Find a nice niche area and become an expert (i.e. specialist). I think that may be a good way to get ahead. Or, find out what the big area of law is for your city, and get into that. For Vegas, family law is big–so is criminal law. Of course, few people have the money to hire lawyers. One key to surviving as a lawyer is to keep your overhead down as much as possible. In this day and age, a computer, cell phone, printer and a place to hang your license are about all you need expense-wise.

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