For Young Lawyers

From Ken Turek

“The long hours, money pressure, conflict, potential for mistakes – sometimes overwhelm me.”

You may think this quote is from a young lawyer, but it is from a lawyer in practice almost 20 years. The lesson is: the early pressures of lawyering remain throughout our careers. How we understand and internally “conquer” them defines how well we practice and, more importantly, how well we live away from The Law.

Younger lawyers are actually in an enviable position because their bad habits are not as hard to break. If there is one bit of advice I give young lawyers – older lawyers ignore me – is that a major key to success is, quite simply, an intentional mindset, or rather, an individually designed structure for how to think. Unfortunately, none of this is taught to us in law school. We learn the hard way that proactive thinking of how to go about our work and life–not reactive–is often essential to our well-being.

Too often we hear “I need a drink to get through this week” or “The opposing lawyer is driving me crazy” or “I need to go to yoga to relax.”

These are all reactive statements. They reflect a person who is letting law and life come at them rather than the reverse. An example:

Lawyer Smith is in a deposition when his opponent says something that angers him. Smith fights back, terminates the deposition and storms out. During his drive home Smith rationalizes by blaming the other lawyer or the system or whatever. He then does whatever he does (exercise, talking, drinking, etc.) which makes him feel “centered” again.
Smith’s reactive mindset allows circumstances to control him, rather than the other way around.

A different lawyer, Lawyer Jones, is “centered” up front. Her depo prep includes a disciplined intention to stay focused whatever comes her way, and to do her best work. She is consequently centered throughout the deposition, ignores any extraneous stimuli and completes it absent any drama. She leaves not only satisfied, but also not dragged down by emotional turmoil. After work she is already at peace, rather than struggling to return to it.

The law requires constant learning and growth. We all struggle at times. The practice can wear us down if we just allow it to come to us. A disciplined, proactive mindset can help with challenges that will surely come. It takes intention and practice but can save a lot of heartache.

Ken Turek has practiced in San Diego for over thirty-five years, and is a Master of the Bench and former President of the American Inns of Court, William B. Enright Chapter. He attended in 1998, and since 1999 has served on the national faculty of the Gerry Spence Trial Lawyers College where he donates his time to teach American lawyers how to better protect people and communities through our system of justice.

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