Vail Daily column: The making of an attorney
I am recently returned from an affirming trip back to Charlottesville, Virginia, for the occasion of my 10th law school reunion. In the midst of the continuum of my lifelong legal education, it was an excellent chance to take stock of the pedagogical path that led me to this juncture and to view the road ahead.
The tutelage of a lawyer is segmented into epochs, each of which impacts the type of attorney that one will become and the stripe of lawyer into which one will evolve. Childhood sets the early tone, law school provides the formal bedrock, early law practice focuses and sharpens, and it is only with peril that a mature attorney ignores the lessons to be gleaned on a daily basis. In this multi-part view of the lawyer’s educational journey, I rewind to the beginning.
Many lawyers come into the world predestined for the profession. As the chromosomes assemble at conception, jiggers of perspicacity and combativeness are added to the genetic cocktail. Like any skill, one can condition oneself to excel in legal endeavors, but many of the finest attorneys possess innate understanding. Success as an attorney is not simply a function of knowing the most statutes or rules. In a system governed by nuance, instinct plays an outsized role — so too does the ability to interact interpersonally. These are traits provided by nature, but of course they must be nurtured.
Parents are the first models of conflict resolution. If one or both parents are lawyers, their template is that much more influential. Attorney parents can be an inspiration to their offspring’s legal ambitions or else a cautionary tale that causes their children to take refuge in any other pursuit. Lawyer or not, the grace (or lack thereof) with which a parent handles disputes large or small informs the manner that the budding attorney will adopt. If the mother or father has Zen patience, it is less likely that the child grows up to become an ultra-aggressive courtroom demon. Likewise, if progenitors fly off the handle with the slightest of provocations, it will take external inputs or internal motivations for the kid to become the type of attorney with which one would want to do business.
As the child transitions into the toddler phase and begins interfacing with others in a meaningful way, chances abound to reinforce the positive or negative exemplar of the parents. The playground is a prime locale at which the child, self-absorbed and coddled to that stage, learns to deal with other personalities. If he or she is allowed to literally run rampant without regard to the needs or desires of surrounding peers, a sense of entitlement sets in that may transform into unbridled arrogance and inflexibility by the time the bar exam is passed. Story time at the library presents an opportunity to teach the importance of listening, a trait often overlooked by many lawyers but one absolutely critical to their careers and the interests of their clients.
For many, the next step is some variety of pre-K program. Preschools espouse different philosophies, but the common thread is a focus on helping the child transition from the home environment to the rigors of academia.
My daughter attends a Montessori preschool, and one of its many attractions is the way that the teachers empower the children to resolve conflicts without adult intervention and on their own terms. Rather than a timeout or punishment, the sparring kids visit the peace rock, a place that encourages communication about the dispute as a means to ending it. Had we all had the benefit of this early “legal” education, the world would look very different.
By the time that children enter kindergarten, many of their predilections are set. There is of course a certain malleability, but the general path of development is already being followed. Scholarship, from the youngest grades through college, will impart them with the substantive knowledge and thirst for learning that will prepare them for a legal career.
There is no set formula for the type of schooling or concentrations that will best equip a nascent attorney. While writing and communication skills are very important, those can be garnered in many a milieu. Math and engineering pursuits may provide problem-solving skills, while dabbling in the arts can imbue one with the necessary creative streak. Rather than a specific pre-law mindset, I encourage a true liberal arts education to create the type of well-rounded attorneys that the profession can surely use.
Law school, the subject of this series’ next part, will do plenty to mold lawyers out of the resulting raw materials.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril, LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, please contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.