Law Students and Young Lawyers

Look Before You Leap

In the early 1980’s, just about the time that I was looking for my first permanent job in the legal profession, someone had called a recession and everyone had shown up. The pickings were slim for first year lawyers. Luckily for me, there was Don, a lawyer with over 25 years’ experience in the profession, who was being let go by the firm that hired me. 

Forty-three years later, I can still remember some of Don’s screw-ups which I had to clean up. Here are just two of many:

  1. One demanding accountant had insisted that a transaction be backdated for tax purposes. Don produced Articles of Amendment to create new shares and provided that, “These Articles are deemed to come into effect [six months earlier than the filing date.”]  Even I, as a first-year lawyer, knew that you cannot do that.
  2. Another accountant was anxious to get agreements signed on a corporate reorganization but could not figure out which entity should purchase the shares. Don had a purchase agreement signed which in effect said, “A shall sell to B or C.” Nothing in the file indicated who the purchaser actually was. That does not work either.

How was it that Don was so bad at what he did that a first-year lawyer had to be hired to clean up his mess? The story goes that Don had spent his entire career working for an insurance company and envying his colleagues in private practice who had more prestige and earned more money.  So Don set out to show that he too could be successful in private practice.

At the time, the law firm in question was managed by a fellow who was, how do I say it, oh, I know, ‘cheap.’  He liked to hire young lawyers who would work long hours for little money.  The firm also had a rainmaker partner who was frustrated by the lack of senior lawyers at the firm to do the glorious work that he attracted. Rainmaker man put his foot down and demanded that the managing partner hire someone senior.

And then Don’s application arrived. He had been a lawyer for many years. Check. He was willing to work for much less than a senior lawyer with experience in private practice. Check. The managing partner could tell rainmaker man that he was hiring a lawyer with over twenty-five years of experience. Check.

Likely to his ever-lasting regret, Don stepped into a demanding environment where he was expected to work long hours, at least six days a week, taking care of a myriad of matters which were completely outside of his experience. If he wanted to stay at that firm, Don had two choices. Choice one: Buckle down, work harder than ever, and learn what he had to know. Choice two: Coast, get by and hope for the best.

Don chose choice two.  I took over and took choice one. I worked six and a half days a week to compensate for my lack of experience and eventually ‘succeeded’ in law, if not in life.

My advice – look before you leap. You might as well take my advice. After all, it should be in great condition – Lord knows that I never used it.

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