Tuesday, July 14, 2015

What: Harry Mount, My Brief Career: The Trials of a Young Lawyer (Short Books, 2004).

Why:  Some insight for entrepreneurs on their lawyers, including how legal education probably has very little to do with creating a successful and satisfying life as a practicing lawyer.

It is no secret that the Great Recession dampened the hopes of many a young would-be lawyer fresh out of law school. Fewer jobs, in turn, have led to declining law school enrollments. We have even begun to see some consolidation of law schools as they struggle to survive in the “new normal” environment. Some commentators have even suggested that law school itself is an outdated concept, and that it should be replaced by a shorter academic course followed by on-the-job training of the kind found, for example, in England.

Enter Harry Mount, whose memoir of his year spent as a pupil in a London barrister’s chambers is particularly illuminating along these lines. His is an engaging and often humorous story, told as one might expect by someone who ultimately abandoned the law for a successful career as a journalist.  

He had high expectations. He came to the legal profession believing that any lawyer could shape society through his work, that he “might be responsible for changing the law...by creating a legal precedent.”

What followed was a frustrating year as an apprentice during which any excitement he felt about the profession was leached out of him by inattentive tutors and repetitive work. “When man is capable of the funniest, saddest and most exciting acts of imagination,” he writes, “it is hard to be one of the few members of mankind who are forced to read, day in, day out, paragraphs like ‘Reasonable financial provision—s.1(2)(b) such financial provision as it would be reasonable in all the circumstances of the case of the applicant to receive for his maintenance.’”

As Mount notes, “Law is one of the great and necessary disciplines of a civilized society.” But it most definitely is not everyone’s cup of tea. Someone who imagines herself a modern-day Perry Mason may, through practical exposure to the day-to-day workings of a legal career, discover that “real legal life is mostly about the dreariest bits that happen before the trial begins, that are more often than not about trying to stop the trial going ahead altogether.”

Unlike Mount, many of us—and I’m thinking here in particular of my colleagues in the Entrepreneurial Services Group here at Gray Plant Mooty—have succeeded in finding meaning in such day-to-day tasks by focusing on results, by interacting with interesting clients (who often become friends), and by trying to add value to the enterprise however we can. I doubt such things can be taught, whatever system of legal education you embrace.

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