Final Words I
Prof. Bill Long 4/21/05
My "Top Ten List" for Aspiring Lawyers
These are my final words to you in this class. Final exams are on your mind and should be. This will be the last time through that process for many of you, and I know you can't wait to be done and be on with the next step of your life. Before you move on, however, I would like to give you some words of encouragement and advice. You second-year students have a year or so before all of this becomes relevant, but I think it is not too early to hear it. I call it "Long's Top Ten List on Law, Lawyering and Living." These ten points are not placed in random order, though I don't know the precise priority placement for each.
10. Focus on what you can do, rather than what you can't do. So many people are so aware of their deficiencies that it is almost paralyzing. There will always be more in life that you can't do than that you can. So, learn to recognize your skills rather than your lacks. In that regard, some of you may not yet have jobs (most of you?). One way to assure yourself of a paying job is to realize that you have a skill that 90% of America doesn't have: you can take notes and write them up in an attractive and sensible format. If you don't have work, volunteer to serve on the board of directors of a non-profit that fits your philosophy. They are always looking for board members. Volunteer further to take notes. Before too long someone will ask you to do some legal work for them. Works every time.
9. Let your attitude be, I don't YET understand, rather than I WILL NEVER understand. Law is not too difficult once you give it some time. Law is often nothing more than putting a vocabulary on common human actions. Whenever I have asked the question, "Is this communication a revocation? Is it an acceptance? Is it a repudiation?," I am trying to put a legal term on a common expression of desire or denial. If you don't understand a concept, try it from a different angle, read a different case, reframe your question. It will become clearer to you. The major reason I wrote essays for you this term was to give you a variety of forms in which you could learn: Code, cases, lectures, problems and essays. If you don't learn well in one format, try another. You don't YET understand--not I WILL NEVER understand.
8. Grant others their dignity, especially service people, and pay them on time. Over the course of your career you will have dozens of people render service to you. It may be a secretary, a legal researcher, or a person who fixes the heater. Treat them and the work they do for you with respect. They know their names will never be in lights, but yours may. They know that they will never set the world on fire, but you might. Give them their financial due and honor them, and they will be loyal to you forever.
7. The quality of your character will be evident by how you treat people who have no defense if you mistreat them. The world is full of "little people," people who are living their lives, raising their families, but people who don't have the skills, opportunities, intelligence or access to formal means of redress that you have. You may have thought of yourself over the years as a little person, but you are so no longer. Law takes away your innocence and gives you skills and knowledge that others simply do not have. You will discover as you get older and become recognized that you are able to mistreat people if you want and they may have little opportunity to respond. Your character will be shown in how you treat people when you can "get away" with treating them unjustly.
6. The quality of your character will be evident by how you react when YOU are mistreated. Believe me, you will be mistreated, if you have not already been. If you have experienced it, I sympathize with you. It is one of the worst feelings in the world. Oh, I don't mean by being mistreated that opposing counsel is mean to you or even that one of the partners is short with you. That comes with the territory. But I am referring to those experiences when you know you are right and people, like judges or others in the legal machinery treat you or your client disrespectfully and you really have very little recourse. This is more than rejection, which some of you have probably experienced a good deal of in life already. I am talking about something that is akin to abuse, to what we might call in law intentional infliction of emotional distress or unconscionable treatment. It will happen to you. How you respond will be the test of your character. Do you lash out in vengeance? Plot the person's speedy and painful demise? Do you beat yourself up for not anticipating it? Or, do you realize that wounds are a natural result of the battle we engage in? Do you have some people who can bind you up and send you back into it?
5. Words are your currency. Be rich in them. You are not going to offer people your skill in repairing their homes. You are not going to fill the cavities in their teeth. You are not going to erect esthetically-pleasing buildings. You are not going to deliver babies. What we offer has to do with words and how we can use words to persuade someone or to accomplish a task. Be rich in them. Know more words than you think you will need to use. Let us take the following hypothetical. Suppose there is an 800 meter runner, and the coach says to him, "Well, let's do our training routine for the day. It is to run 5 miles." If the 800 meter runner objected and said, "Coach, you don't understand. I run 800 meters, not long distance," what do you think the response would be? The coach would not take the runner seriously. You ALWAYS train by expending more energy that you will have to use in the competition itself. You train for the 800 meters by running long distance because you know that when the chips are down and you demand something of your body, it has to respond.
So it is with words. They are our currency. There are many instances where you will have to have the right words, and you often don't have much time to search for them. But your goal should be to have good words, sturdy and solid words, at your disposal at all times.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long