A Young Jedi's Guide to the Universe (Young Lawyer Edition)

I am glad you asked, Young Jedi. I am officially at the outer rim as far my membership as a "young" lawyer. I have been involved with the section for a decade (800 years in Star Wars terms) and now it is time to impart some wisdom, or at the very least, some parting thoughts to provide you guidance through this galaxy that is our profession. Consider that Yoda may have been a great mentor as a managing partner at your law firm and that you, as either Attorney Luke or Attorney Leia Skywalker, could benefit from the celestial advice I am about to offer to navigate through the evil empire (perhaps a little too dark of a reference). I know you are having trouble with the image of the petite, light green Jedi master toiling with the fax machine, but go with it for now...

Yoda was not into crib notes. But luckily, in our universe of Word and Adobe, we can afford to jot a few things down in outline fashion.

Be Confident

The first item offered to you in your training as you enter the scene as a young apprentice is to find a comfort zone. We will use the phrase-confidence. You must believe in yourself as a leader, an advocate. You are where you are for a reason. You have succeeded in getting through the rigors of law school, passing that dreaded bar examination and hopefully landing that first job. You are already quite resilient. Believe in yourself and your abilities. Remember as you peruse around your office that each and every attorney was once (hard to believe I know) a young attorney.

You will have trials, and I'm not referencing those in front of a jury or court-side. There are some tough decisions to make as an up-and-coming lawyer. You must trust your instincts. The only way to get there is to believe in you. This comes with time and experience. But you should not minimize the importance of decision making just because you are new to the profession. There are times you will need to confront a situation whether relating to your employment, a client, or something going on in your personal life. I'm not advocating that you grab a light saber and take out opposing counsel. Stick up for yourself. Be persistent. This is the road to discovering who you are as an attorney (and more importantly, as a person).

Before I became a master Jedi (or partner at my firm-stick with it), I was somewhat reserved when it came to asking the managing partner, a distinguished Harvard Law School graduate, for a raise. I had been with the firm for three years and was extremely productive in terms of resolving cases and obtaining new business. (This was my second place of employment since law school). Each year, I heard the same story at review time about the woes of the firm's economic status. Admittedly intimidated, I never bothered to ask for a raise. What was I thinking?! I gathered some strength (insert The Force here if it helps you) and I committed my soon-to-be request to paper, outlining the reasons why I was worth it. I didn't just walk in to the partner's office asking for a blank check. I didn't pound my chest like a Wookie, either (although I have to admit that would have been fun). I was succinct in my communication. I went in to the next meeting at my request convinced that, regardless of the outcome, I was worth it. Call it a Jedi Mind Trick. It worked. A year later, I was named partner. The managing partner has since retired, a master Jedi himself. Thankful, I now have the honor of sitting in his former office with the responsibilities he once had. I would not have gotten there if I was a silent droid.

"Do or do not...there is no try."

Patience is, in fact, a virtue: Stay in the Moment

I have three kids under the age of seven and all I hear from parents of teenagers is how fast the time flies. Enjoy every minute, they say. There are times when I think these people are from another plant (perhaps Tatooine). Do they remember changing diapers (researching case law)? Do they have any memory of losing sleep night after night (partner has you billing those late night hours)? How about bath time (the closest comparison I have here is schmoozing clients)?! But this insight is an incredible one.

A wise Jedi once advised me early in my career that it was important for me to be at peace with where I was at that very moment, despite my aspirations to "have it all" immediately. In this world of instant access, this seemed extremely far-fetched. I wanted to be a partner, drive the nice car, and own the big house on the corner lot. Not until now do I realize that the important part of this road was the journey itself. I am a dozen years into my career and the glory thus far was learning my trade, looking at my clients face to face and assisting them in their time of need, and participating in the education of other young lawyers. This other "stuff" I was looking for from a distance really doesn't mean that much to me as the time and effort I put in to paving the road for my future. Changing diapers, losing sleep and bath time may look more laborious than they are worth, but that part of the journey should be cherished.

I can't say it better than the master himself...

"A Jedi must have the deepest commitment, the most serious mind. This one a long time have I watched. All his life has he looked away... to the future, to the horizon. Never his mind on where he was. Hmm? What he was doing. Hmph. Adventure. Heh. Excitement. Heh. A Jedi craves not these things. You are reckless."

If I had Yoda's little stick I would poke your chest as I reminded you to focus on the present. Bringing you back to earth for a moment, in order to be the next shortstop of the New York Yankees (is it spring training yet?), you have to field a ton of ground balls in practice. I advise my six- and seven-year olds before practice that they love practice. They all put their hands in together and on the count of three we all scream "I love practice!" You should love practice, too. Yell it out if you feel like it. (I won't even make you slide into second base). Craft your skills. Build relationships within (and outside) of your practice. Listen to your clients. Earn it. Enjoy it.

Balance

Many attorneys I speak with complain of being "burned" out. I was there more than once. We have a fancy name in our section that is used for the balance of work and life-Equilibrium. You don't need Yoda to tell you to eat right, exercise, and treat yourself once and a while. Even Luke went out with Han Solo once and a while to the canteen. (I never saw any references to a fitness center or book club while they were flying the Millennium Falcon in and out of hyperspace, but you get the point).

At the direction of YLS Director Attorney Jen Strutt, our section had a candid discussion at one of our meetings to include a panel of experienced attorneys about the importance of balancing work and life. One theme that emerged was that firms today are less likely to afford younger attorneys the opportunity to participate in non-billable activities or at programs that are not income generators. I think this reality rings true with all firms, ranging from small to large.

Professionally, there are ways you can diversify your activities to include participation in the bar association, pro bono matters, and public interest projects. You have to be willing to take the initiative and participate. Look at what is out there that interests you. You may be surprised at how minimal an effort it takes.

On a personal level, you need to find an outlet. I have seen many young attorneys who have either left the profession or were emotionally spent during the initial stage of their career. It is easy to become overwhelmed. I don't have the studies, but attorneys are high on the stress scale. I married an attorney. You can imagine how much "fun" we have at the dinner table sharing stories of our placid day. Getting away is important for us. Even if we can't take a full week off, a day trip to Providence we planned was the perfect change of pace.

Here is another invitation for you. In advance of the CBA Annual Meeting in June, the Equilibrium Project, as has been done previously this year, is offering a seminar about how to assist your financial status in these economic times. This is a great opportunity for you to provide some balance to your life and checkbook.

Other examples of what this project has provided our young lawyers is cooking lessons, training with a fitness instructor, and professional networking by local region.

"Remember, a Jedi's strength flows from the Force. But beware. Anger, fear, aggression. The dark side are they. Once you start down the dark path, forever will it dominate your destiny."

All right, maybe I've gone too far. But while I'm at it, I owe it to you to remind you how important your use of the "force" is in this profession. I won't reiterate that famous phrase that Yoda used to tell his young apprentice because I don't want George Lucas coming after me with some sort of infringement suit and risk him taking away all of these action figures that my kids have collected (and my brother and I before them) throughout the years. You have the power to control your destiny with, for example, confidence, patience, and balance in your young professional life. Pick your head up once and a while and check that you are on a path that you want to continue on. May the force be with you! (Couldn't resist).