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March 01, 2024

“Nice Smart American Kids Make Lousy Lawyers”

Image: Ragdoll Productions for BBC TV

What kind of human makes a great lawyer?

I don't mean a go-through-the-motions lawyer, a tell-you-what-the law-is lawyer (dipstick variety) or even a yeoman lawyer here. I mean a solid and effective advocate-adviser you can count on when money, reputation, freedom and sometimes life itself is at stake.

People who work every day for 40 years for each client as if it's their first day working on their first real client assignment. Sure, some of the details get to be tedious or old hat after a while--but those juices are always flowing. They are always tuned into their responsibilities to others. They take great pride in it. People, if you will, who were born to be lawyers.

"Nice, smart" kids, maybe?

No. In fact, "nice, smart" kids including scads of first-borns who were always great students, maybe elected Senior Class President in high school or on the debating team in college--they come in droves to the legal profession every year and have done that for generations--almost always make shitty lawyers.

"Smart" is a prerequisite. "Nice" is okay--"happy" is more important--but you meet few sane clients who insist on "nice".

To be an effective lawyer, you need a lot more going on, whether you are doing litigation, transactional work, regulatory matters and even legislative/lobbying kinds of projects. I'm not an expert on personality types. But in my view you probably ought to have all of the following: (1) more energy than most people have, (2) stamina (good physical health, perhaps better than average health), (3) persistence, (4) ambition, (5) resilience, (6) competitiveness and a (7) mean streak a mile wide you can turn off and on. And that's for starters. Here are two more: (8) a natural tendency to thrive on and even relish conflict (no, not "embrace", I said relish) and (9) a natural tendency to regard "stress as kind of fuel".

So with that in mind, we've renamed our blog, starting two days ago--until the day after Labor Day--What About Clients/Paris? will be known as "It's Not About the Lawyers, Teacups." As most of our seven or eight regular readers we've picked up since our launch 10 years ago already know, we think there is currently in the legal profession an alarmingly undue emphasis on concepts like:

(a) lawyer comfort and satisfaction generally,

(b) lawyer self-esteem,

(c) lawyer "resilience" (N.B. "lawyer resilience"; this is a subtopic if there ever was one that is certain to make a lot of sophisticated clients look suddenly like they've lost several pints of blood the first time they hear it),

(d) lawyer "mindfulness" and other pop-Zen faux-Eastern notions of well-being, calm, repose, serenity and right state of mind which are taught by people who have no idea what they're talking about to often youngish lawyers who don't know the difference and which would have Alan Watts, Eknath Easwaran or Gautama Himself rolling agonizingly in their graves;

(e) lawyer mental health, and

(f) the new "Lawyer Patienthood", especially underemployed or unemployed younger lawyers who are desperate to make the profession "fit them" even if in the best of economic times it would be painfully apparent to them and many others that they are wonderful, important and talented creatures who deserve to be happy but were simply not cut out to be lawyers in the first place. "Nice, smart kids" can certainly do many other things.

I think that the wrong humans have been entering law school for some time now, from the oldest Baby Boomers to the youngest of Gen-Ys. Somehow we need to attract those who are born with the basic mental, emotional and physical makings of the kind of person clients and customers can rely on with confidence. There are lots of these folks--and we need to start attracting them to this profession. For the last three decades, at least, they have not appeared in great numbers. Let's develop more sophisticated ways of identifying them--and for the sake of clients everywhere somehow start getting them here.

Original post: September 3, 2015

Posted by JD Hull at March 1, 2024 12:22 AM


PE,thanks for checking in. We'll soon have a new blog platform which will make commenting more interactive.

You're right on all of the above. As lame as it sounds, a strong personality test (that is followed by a track record of successful predictions), might actually be a good tool here. For this profession brains are a prerequisite--I know, we don't seem to get that as much anymore--but energy, persistence, feistiness, competitiveness, physical health and moxie.

Posted by: Dan Hull at September 8, 2015 03:01 PM

Dan, I blame the ABA and the law school industry for the prestige dilution and desecration of our profession. I am comforted by the fact that I did not have classmates such as Elie Mystal, Bryan Tanningbum or Queef Lee for these individuals would not have been admitted to a peer law school in my day. Hell Queef Lee couldn't even get into an ABA approved cesspool and that is not hard these days as some schools are admitting retards (LSAT scores in the 30% percentile or lower). The law schools keep pumping out former criminals (e.g., murderers, rapists, arsonists, check kiting artists, etc.) into the bar. Where is their shame? The shame went out the window when these law school deans and professors sold out the profession to line their own pockets.

To add insult to injury, these newly minted lawyers want breaks because they feel entitled to them. I also blame New Age parenting and the educational industry complex which apparently just cashes federal loan checks and coddles these kids instead of teaching them professionalism and real skills.

Posted by: Partner Emeritus at September 3, 2015 05:54 PM

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