Networking events bring out all kinds of lawyers. For the most part, they bring out normal lawyers looking to connect with other normal lawyers. They also bring out great lawyers at every stage of their careers. What’s the fun in writing about those kinds of lawyer though? It’s the outliers who make for the best discussion.
Events bring out the young lawyers with no jobs, wandering around like zombies clutching stacks of business cards with “Esq.” after their names but no firm name or physical address anywhere to be found. Some only list a cell phone with an Illinois area code and a Gmail or Yahoo email address consisting of a cutesy name followed by a few odd digits. As smart as some of them seem, I can’t bring myself to refer a potential client to Jim from Joliet who goes by “puppylover69″ and practices out of a post office box. I try to buy them drinks instead; they deserve a cold one.
The events also bring out the newly-minted small firm associates. Some of them are models for success, but more of them are there because they aren’t yet earning their keep. Their bosses send them out hoping they’ll make connections and snare a few small referrals here and there. They usually aren’t quite sure about what type of law they practice. They try to feel out what the solos are making and figure out how much vacation time other young associates get. It isn’t encouraging.
Perhaps the most fascinating lawyer of all at these functions is the big firm associate. Like any type of lawyer, there are amazingly talented ones as well as those who make me concerned about the future of the profession. The latter are far more interesting. Some of them are still fixated on law school. Despite all their money (I assume) and support staff (I assume) and mahogany-scented homes filled with leather-bound books (I assume), they seem to have peaked before they ever met a client. They talk about their law school grades like Al Bundy talks about the touchdowns he scored during the glory days of high school football.
In high school, I remember the people who were at their peak. I remember the pretty girls who never got any prettier, and the athletic guys whose dreams of a professional sports career turned out to be nothing more than dreams. I’m confident that the ones who made it big don’t think about high school anymore, and so it goes with the top of any law school class. There are ones who have gone on to great things. There are ones who still tell you about their grades.
Law school isn’t trade school. Maybe it should be, but it isn’t. It also isn’t a vacuum. I’m happy about that. The important parts of the professional life of a lawyer, a life centered around representing people or people’s ideas or institutions comprised of people, are the parts that occur after the lawyer starts lawyering. That much may seem obvious, but like many obvious things, it’s only that way when you have a certain perspective. Epic tales about all-night cram sessions to ascend into the elite top 7.6% of a school ranked in the top 37.5% just aren’t that interesting to me. They are to some. Different strokes for different folks, I guess.
What I take from many networking events, and from grade-obsessed people in general, are a reinvigorated outlook and a little bit of resolve. It’s the idea that what I’m doing now should be the most important thing I’ve done. It’s resolving that I won’t define myself based on something I did or didn’t do in training school or at any other point in my past, but that I’m defining myself by the work I’m doing right now.
I’m not hanging around with ex-presidents. I’m mostly meeting people my age or younger. If they’re already coming down from the peak, it tells me they haven’t climbed much of a mountain. People who are eating free hors d’oeuvres and hobnobbing with the likes of me should be people whose best is yet to come. Constantly reminding myself that’s what should ring true for me as well is the best thing I can do to ensure my clients now are as well-served as the ones I’ve done right in the past.