After my last post asking when exactly one stops feeling like a “new” lawyer, I was pleasantly surprised to be quoted by ABA Journal’s Question of the Week posing the same question to its readers. As usual, the dialogue in the comments started to devolve into a heated debate:
“I was born into the world of law fully formed,” said the Newly-Minted Lawyer.
“Kids these days think they know everything! It takes years of experience and training to be a REAL lawyer!” said the Veteran Lawyer.
“Not so fast, gramps! I think maybe you old guys are the problem,” said an Anonymous Commenter.
OK, so I paraphrased a little. And, this being a forum for grown-ups and professionals, decorum soon regained its footing with both sides agreeing that each, maybe, had a point.
We often feel that the legal community is split into two factions: the Young Upstarts vs. the Seasoned Professionals. The Young Upstart wants nothing more than to dive in and practice law and to learn and do everything, right now, today. He looks at the Seasoned Professional in sheer terror and hopes that no one notices that he doesn’t exactly know what he is doing.The Seasoned Professional looks at the Young Upstart and thinks, “Dear God! They’ll let anyone take the bar exam! His mere presence in the courtroom is malpractice!”
I remember being terribly offended when I, a Young Upstart fresh out of law school, insisted on a point of law and a Seasoned Professional told me that she, “admired my gumption,” but that I was too new to know anything and, in her opinion, the mere fact that they let me talk to clients was an affront to justice. And that was at Big Law, where I was supposed to be getting all of that lovely learning and training and mentoring that we hold up as the ideal for a Young Upstart. So much for that!
As Young Upstarts, the temptation is to fake it ’til you make it: to act as though you know more than you do, that you have more experience than you do, and to figure it out as you go along. It’s an unavoidable strategy when you are starting out with no one to give you direction and guidance. Too often, though, we do ourselves a disservice by displaying conceit instead of humility. We turn off the Seasoned Professionals who might offer us the training and guidance that we truly seek.
As Seasoned Professionals, the temptation is to roll your eyes at the confidence of a Young Upstart and to dismiss as arrogance their attempts to teach themselves on the job. We fail to see that necessity – in this case the need for a job in an unprecedentedly tight legal job market – is the mother of self-invention. We mistake false bravado for actual hubris and dismiss these Young Upstarts out of pocket. In other words, Seasoned Professionals, we fail our young lawyers when we “admire their gumption” and do nothing to teach them a better way.
The fact is, we ALL fake it ’til we make it. We ALL start from the same place. Today’s Young Upstart is tomorrow’s Seasoned Professional. The Seasoned Professional got that way by making mistakes and learning by doing as a Young Upstart. We all start with a metaphorical dirt lot and shovel and build our proverbial houses from the foundation up.
The job of the Young Upstart is to be humble and gracious and to accept the knowledge that will come your way. Listen more than you speak. Accept that you do not know everything, and that you have much to learn. Work your ass off. Teach yourself what you can, and fake it only as far as you have to.
The job of the Seasoned Professional, then, is to help the Young Upstart to fake it a little better. To teach him a little something that he can use to build on. We have to be less arrogant in our experience than we were in our youth, and humbly offer what we have learned without expecting anything in return. And never forget that we are still learning, still figuring it all out, still faking it.
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®.