All of you that are just about to graduate, and all of you who are just starting to practice, I want to tell you something: it gets better.
2006 was a big year for me. Ten years ago, I was sitting in my last law school classes. I was starting to study for the Florida Bar Exam. I was clerking at a biggish law firm. I was interviewing for jobs at other big firms, too. I was wondering if maybe I should just go solo straight out of law school.
In May, we graduated, and I got offered a job. I began studying for the Bar Exam in earnest. Fourteen-plus hour days of cramming bar questions and practicing essay writing. It burnished me. Everything I learned in law school got concentrated, distilled into just what I needed to know to pass the test. Like all would-be lawyers studying for the bar exam, I got used to working incredibly hard for long periods of time.
I took the Bar Exam on July 25th and 26th, the eve of my 39th birthday, then left for the honeymoon I was too busy to take during my 1L summer. I came back tanned, rested, and a few weeks behind some of my peers who jumped right into work immediately after taking the Bar. I was glad I got to take a break, but I scrambled to catch up.
We got our results in September. I and the rest of the Class of ’06 nervously waited to see our scores, to tell our employers the good (or bad) news. In many ways, the day I got the news I passed the Bar Exam was happier than the day I got married. Don’t tell my husband.
Ten years ago, I was all about the law and nothing but the law. I had no life, just work and sleep and more work. The practice of law was new to me, and I made my share of mistakes. I also had my share of early victories. You know, like everyone else straight out of school. I knew the black letter law then, maybe better than I know it today, but I knew nothing about applying it. I was terrified every single time I talked to a client or wrote a memo. I just knew that I had to be committing malpractice every time I opened my mouth.
Eventually, you get over it. You just keep plugging along, and you eventually get good at being a lawyer. I can’t even remember when I started to feel confident and capable. I can’t tell you when exactly I got so comfortable with the job that I quit worrying so much about it. I can only tell you that it happened. That if you do this long enough, it will happen to you.
Where you are, I once was. Where those who have been around longer than me have been, I am heading.
There are still things that are new to me. There’s always something to learn: new laws, new cases, even whole new practice areas. And you never stop learning the business side of things, as improving your processes and systems is the only way to get more profitable unless you’ve invented a way to go for 24 hours a day for weeks on end without sleep. But you get better at being someone’s counselor and advisor and advocate.
I used to think that law school had been somewhat useless, failing to train us for the real world practice of law. All theory, no practical application. However, I use what I learned in law school all the time. It forms a background of knowledge that is quite necessary. It also trains you to think a certain way that is essential to law practice. Law schools try to teach applied law, offering clinics and a handful of practicums, but there’s no way to give you that kind of practical experience in just three years of law school. Or six. Or maybe even ten.
No, you just have to do it. There is no way to learn to practice law except to practice law.
Will you ever quit worrying that you’ve screwed up? No. At least I hope I never do. Staying on this side of the Rules of Professional Conduct is still important to me. I still need to worry that what I say and do could cost me my bar card. We all do. It does get easier, though – more seamless and less terrifying. Overall, you’ll have less to worry about.
Just give it a decade or two.
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®.