Legal puberty is real. I am not referring to one of those laws in the South regarding 12-year-olds getting married and when you can buy alcohol. I mean that, just as in your real life, you’ll go through certain developmental stages in your career—including puberty—in your life as a lawyer. The phases are similar, quite distinct and universal.
First, you are born as an attorney, crying (on the inside), scared (on the outside). Then, one day you realize you can subpoena people and it’s “Helloooo, Terrible Two’s!” You say “no” to every request made of you and only your cases are important.
Within a few years you enter your legal teens. You get the coolest laptop or iPad, bring it to court, stop shaving every day and say things like “I know, I know, that judge is totally clueless.”
Next comes young adulthood. This is when it becomes clear your school loans are not going anywhere. It’s also when you get your first client on your own and realize, “Holy sh#t, I can make money doing this!” Then you finally dive into your work.
The years pass, and you hit your midlife legal crisis. You buy the newest, niftiest gadgets, unbutton your shirt collar at depositions (no tie, of course) and say things like, “I made this firm and they don’t even realize it.”
Finally, comes the senior lawyer phase. Now you are a mature, wise lawyer. You know a few things—including all the things that you don’t know.
You Can Choose to Be a Grown-up Lawyer
You’re probably nodding your head now, identifying various colleagues who are showing the signs of all these stages of development. But wait. You do realize that legal puberty is not physiological, right? You can choose to change it, and accelerate your legal age straight to maturity and wisdom. Be a grown-up. Just follow three easy guidelines:
- Respect all attorneys. They all passed the bar, and belong to the same profession you do. Disrespecting another attorney is disrespecting yourself.
- Stop thinking you know it all. You don’t. The less your bosses know about technology, the more valuable they are to you. Wisdom can be learned. The senior partner may think a Twitter is a tool used during a prostate exam, but his name is on the wall for a reason. Learn from him.
- Less is more. Talk less, argue less and listen more. Clients, judges and other lawyers love to talk. Let them.
I may not know what I’m talking about, but I think you understand.
William Melater is a young associate working at a firm focused on commercial litigation and transactional work. A self-described legal hunter and gatherer, Bill has accumulated a plethora of legal certificates and diplomas—all of which have been appropriately framed and hung behind his desk. Bill has a distaste for emails, suspenders, fake tans, paralegals who cry, sea urchins and attorneys who repeat the phrase “this is my bottom-line offer.” When irked, Bill blogs about his experiences at Attorney at Work.