Once there was a lawyer named Mark who considered himself to be an ‘idea man.’ Mark had a whole bunch of non-billable projects on his list of things to do, and he was always adding items to it.
This article has three parts. Do not act on the suggestions in the first part until you consider the advice in the second part and the rebuttal in the third part.
Part One: Murray’s Recommendations
Murray strongly recommends that articling students ask these probing questions and many similar ones before accepting a position:
For today’s diatribe, we are going to need a definition of ‘success.’ Although the traditional definition which relates primarily to making a lot of money is deficient in more than a few ways, since it seems to be the standard used by so many in the legal profession, I am going to choose that one.
There are only three ways to make money in the legal profession.
When I retired from the practice of law in 2020, I could not have told you what NCA stands for. I am willing to bet that the majority of home-grown Canadian lawyers in private law firms are just as ignorant about this as I was.
On the other hand, I have never met an internationally trained lawyer who did not know what NCA stands for.
I recently went for a ‘preventative health examination,’ which is code for ‘private healthcare,’ which is something that is in fact available in Canada – to those who are willing and able to pay for it.
I was given a stress test which involved having me walk on a treadmill while hooked-up to a computer. Being me, I quipped to the technician that I was counting on her to make sure that I did not have a heart attack during the test. She reassured me that if I did, I would be in good hands, because ‘back home’ she was a cardiologist.
It is not a very well-kept secret that in Canada we make it difficult for immigrants to qualify to practice their professions.
So let’s talk about lawyers.
By now everyone on LinkedIn has heard about Jon, a Cleveland lawyer who wrote a rather nasty email to a recently departed colleague who, having returned from her maternity leave, gave notice that she was leaving for another firm. The backlash was furious. Jon lost his job rather quickly.
From the flood of comments on social media, the idea surfaced that it is likely that Jon’s behaviour was not an aberration, which got me thinking about some of the people who I ran across while practicing law.
My wife says that I am pathologically honest. I even have trouble bringing myself to tell little white lies (except when writing on LinkedIn where I may fib about the identity of some of the characters, and that one time I forgot to mention to my ex-wife that I had fallen in love with my Associate.)
Being too honest can be a real problem sometimes, especially when you are running a law firm.
At my law firm, we were scrupulously honest. But my friend Martin tells me that at his firm it was sometimes necessary to lie to the Associates.
Back when I was practicing law, now and then I would get a call from a client who needed a litigator. But not just any type of litigator. A male litigator. (Interestingly enough, every such call was from a man. I never did have a woman request a litigator of a particular gender.)
New lawyers need real mentors. Not the type of mentors who are assigned by the firm to be sure that you know what is expected of you in terms of docketed hours and evening and weekend work, but the type of mentors who care about your success and your progression in the profession.
Here are ten things that real mentors do:
Some years ago my firm had a lawyer’s retreat. We invited a speaker who gave a philosophical presentation about being mindful about how you use your time. His theme was that you have to constantly ask yourself, “what is the best use of my time right now?”