Law Students and Young Lawyers

Don’t Be Just One More Corporate Lawyer

I went to high school so long ago that personal computers were not yet a thing. All of the students were required to take typing, which did not sit well with Gerry. He announced on the first day of class that since, as a man, he was never going to be a secretary, he did not need to learn how to type. He then skipped all of the typing classes for the entire semester.

Unlike Gerry, I went to typing class.  As it turned out, being a touch typist came in quite handy when I got my first computer. I googled Gerry the other day. It seems that he became quite successful in the software industry. I imagine that at some point he had to give up the ‘hunt and peck’ and learn to type properly.

Of course, Gerry’s view was correct based on the information available to him at the time. That being said, the trick to real success is to have some notion of what is going to happen in the future.  

When I completed my articles, I thought that becoming a corporate lawyer was a good idea.  Looking back, I realize that the information that I relied upon to make that decision was too limited. That is why when young lawyers ask me what I would do differently if I could go back to the beginning of my career, I always tell the story of a lawyer who I will call Bart.

Bart was a bright young fellow who worked at a small firm doing simple corporate and litigation work back in the days after computers began to appear in law offices, but before access to the internet was generally available. In the evenings, Bart used his personal computer and something called an acoustic coupler modem to access public databases to do research and write a book on what we then called “computer law.” Soon after Bart’s book was published, a space became available in a major Canadian law firm’s small technology department, and Bart jumped from the ‘burbs’ to downtown and has never looked back. 

I tell this story to young folks to make the point that if they want to make it big in the legal profession, what they don’t want to be is just another corporate or litigation lawyer. They want to be one of a limited number of people doing something that is in demand.  Being in demand means that you can: (i) develop a loyal client base; (ii) tell the difficult clients to get lost;  (iii) charge what you want to charge (within some semblance of reason, of course); and (iv) easily collect your accounts.

I have observed people like Bart pull this off by being at the ground level of an emerging area of law, and I have seen others create their own narrow niche.

What they all had in common was a plan not to follow the ‘tried and true’ path, and a touch of entrepreneurial spirit. Of course, there is always some risk inherent in breaking with the pack and charting your own course, but I hear that’s what makes it fun. Of course, I don’t know that for a fact because I just became yet another corporate lawyer.  You can choose a different path.

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