I went to a young lawyer happy hour the other evening night held by the Young Lawyer’s Division of a local bar association. I hoped to maybe meet a few other lawyers in their first years of practice, perhaps share a war story or two, commiserate about Judge Jones or Judge Judy, and swap business cards.
As I saw it, it’s never a bad thing to know more lawyers to whom you could refer cases, or maybe have cases referred to me.
Did I mention free beer and food?
What could possibly go wrong?
So I pocketed a few cards and hopped on the El. I got to the bar at 5pm, right on time. (Note for any other future happy hour organizers: never schedule a young lawyer’s event this early)
I signed in, picked up my name tag and drink ticket, and went to the bar for a beer.
Went over to the first person I saw, and started chatting them up.
Hey there, I’m Leo. So, what’s your story? First year associate at a PI firm, eh? Great, so you’re in motions court a bunch I bet. Have you done any arbitrations yet? Cool, well, you might want to join the PAJ — we have a happy hour next week, and it’s great to know other local plaintiff’s lawyers. You have a card? No? Oh, well, ok, here’s mine. Get in touch and I’ll send you the information on that happy hour…
And that was the last real conversation I had with a lawyer in private practice that night. Not for lack of trying, but because the crowd was mostly law students.
Now I don’t fault these students for coming out to these events. When I was in school, if I could get free beer at an bar association event, you could bet that I’d be there. And you could bet that I was trying to meet lawyers too — learn about the practice, maybe get a job down the line, whatever.
But where were all the young lawyers? The answer: they’re probably still behind their desks at whatever jobs they have. Jesus, it’s only 5pm.
As I chatted with the many students around the room I came to a horrible realization: I recognized in those law students the same youthful hubris that I fear I exhibited at that stage in my career.
Well, I think I am going to open a firm right out of school. I have raw talent and I know that I can win trials.
So many lawyers I see in Court are just terrible! I could do a better job.
Yeah, I know a lot about Y law, so I can just figure it out. It’s not like it’s that hard anyway.
I’m in law school because I have the right skills to be there — like arguing.
“Was I really this bad?”
Realizing that I more than likely was, I sighed, and looked for the nearest window to defenestrate myself.
Then, I had a better idea: Why not try to explain the sobering, hard realities of practice to them (at least, as much as I can at this point in my practice)? So in I went:
Just stop talking for a second. You really don’t know what you’re saying yet. I don’t care that you’re in a clinic that puts you in Court a few times I week. I did that too, and it’s a small start — a baby step. I though I knew a lot too, and I was wrong. Law is not a game.
No, you are not good at anything yet. In fact, you know so little that you’re not even aware of what you don’t know yet. I don’t care what you read. Read all the books on the law you want, it’s still going to take you years until you have enough experience under your belt to call yourself a “good” lawyer without being a liar or completely delusional.
Yes, you will work long hours. Yes, there are days you will hate it. Yes, there are days that you will love it.
No, law is NOT easy. Oh, you don’t want to be a lawyer? Well, if you don’t want to be a lawyer, just drop out of school now — you have better uses for your time and money.
Best thing you can do is stop talking, and start listening. If not to me, then to other lawyers with more knowledge and experience than I…
And so on.
I probably came off as condescending. Maybe it sounded like I was berating them. I’ll bet I sounded like a dick.
Sometimes the truth hurts. When you live in the happy-sphere of law school, the real world can be a cold, hard place.
In the end, I have no idea whether my anti-special-snowflake speech took. If I reached just one law student, I guess the happy hour was worth it. But even if I didn’t, well, at least I got a free beer.
The bottom line: To the Bar Associations holding these Young Lawyer events — How effective are Young Lawyer happy hours when they’re full of mostly not-yet-lawyers talking about how cool they are?
My thought? Not very. At least not for the lawyers in the room. And probably not for the law students either.