Thursday, June 9, 2016

What: Richard W. Moll, The Lure of the Law: Why People Become Lawyers, and What the Profession Does to Them (Penguin Books, 1991)

Why: A law degree is not a magic ticket to happiness (no surprise), but how you use it may be.

There’s something about the feel of a warm early-summer breeze as he contemplates a Canadian- fire-induced shimmering sunset that brings on a bout of navel-gazing in a lawyer approaching what should be his venerable years. Not that introspection is necessarily dependent on atmospheric conditions. After all, sociologists have long told us that lawyers, as a group, tend to be introverts. Some even go so far as to claim that this is a Good Thing.

Guilty as charged on the introversion thing, but as I look back, that’s not what led me to law school. My late father, whose advice over the years frequently pipes up at the back of my mind at opportune moments, would tell me that one could do almost anything with a law degree, a sort of general utility qualification for entrance into the professional classes. Dad was nothing if not practical, and I thought I detected a huge sigh of relief when I informed him that, when it came time to choose the fork in the road, I was turning toward law school and not graduate school in the liberal arts.

Let’s put aside for the moment whether the “law school as magic bullet” idea is—or ever was—true. What is true is that this idea was, and may still be, nearly universally believed. But what happens after someone survives the three-year professional hazing that is law school? Richard Moll shares the insights of many lawyers—and non-lawyers who hold law degrees—in his 1991 book, The Lure of the Law.

This book is dated, yes, but many of its themes are timeless. The conundrum of the law as profession versus the law as business features prominently, as it still does, perhaps on an even greater scale. And it is still true that, with respect to graduates of the top schools and top graduates of all schools, “the great majority run off to the private sector—even some of those who initially take clerkships for a couple of years.” Again, guilty as charged.

But Moll also makes the point that this does not necessarily mean a professional life consigned to drudgery. One lawyer Moll describes found redemption in breaking out of the narrow role as the guy who answers law questions. Instead, this lawyer decided to approach each of his entrepreneurial clients differently: “The first question about the client should be…, ‘How can I help you prosper?’”  Presto, a broadened perspective leads to a rewarding career looking at entire projects from a comprehensive and inventive angle.

I’ve got to say that my colleagues in the Entrepreneurial Services Group here at Gray Plant Mooty already know this well. So here’s one book they can scratch off their to-read lists.

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