A young lawyer asked me for advice. He was contemplating making a jump from Big Law to a smaller firm, for the usual reason that he wanted to work less and enjoy life more. I was not completely sure that it was the right move for him.
I hesitated because the young man in question is very bright. Scary smart. At his Big Law firm he was assisting on precedent-setting litigation such as important constitutional issues. Every day presented him with a new intellectual puzzle. At a smaller firm he could expect to handle more routine matters. Knowing him well, I was not sure whether he would like that.
I contrasted this young person’s intellect with my own. Although I consider myself to be smarter than the average bear, I never minded doing work that I could do in my sleep. Even after I had been practicing business law for many years, if someone wanted to discuss yet another shareholders agreement, I was happy to do it. I enjoyed meeting the people, discussing a topic which I thoroughly understood and helping them develop an appropriate strategy. I was not like my young friend, who would likely be driven to distraction if after many years he had to keep doing the same old stuff.
That is not to say that I did not also enjoy tackling something that was completely new and required me to learn hitherto unexplored concepts and develop creative solutions. That was fun also. But it was not necessary to preserve my mental health.
Having said that, I would never have been happy if my legal practice was restricted to doing the exact same thing over and over and over again. At least as a general business lawyer my menu of services offered was fairly wide, even if some of the items on it were not particularly challenging.
Something which does not seem to be obvious to many consumers of legal services is that lawyers are not all the same. Some of us are deep thinkers. Some of us are forever restricted to the shallows. Some of us have empathy and compassion. Others are stone cold. Perhaps surprisingly, having business sense is not a requirement of being a business lawyer. Not all litigators are strategic, although all of them should be. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
One of the nice things about the law is that it offers opportunities to people with different talents.
There is a lesson in this for both lawyers and clients. Lawyers must learn to understand themselves and find a place in the profession in which they can thrive. Clients need to hire a lawyer who has figured that out.
In the course of my career, I learned that some people are just smarter than I am. That is okay. I accept my limitations. Just the other day my brilliant wife tried to explain something that was slightly too intellectual for me to grasp. I told her that it was just a bit too thinky for me and changed the subject.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.