Vail Daily column: Storming the ivory tower
Editor’s note: This is the second part of a series.
As referenced in the previous installment of this “Education of a Lawyer” series, my upbringing and primary schooling set the tone for my future legal career. Enamored with the profession from an early age and armed with a passion for reading and discourse, I did not need time to find myself after college: Law school beckoned. Due to a mixture of hard work and good fortune, I had choices as to where to pursue the study of law. It is only with the benefit of hindsight that I now recognize how important that decision was to the lawyer I was to become. While the basic tenets of legal education are similar across the country, the particularities and peculiarities of each institution have an outsized impact on their progeny. Alumni assume the character of the crucible in which they were formed, for better and for worse.
Touring various law schools during my senior year of college, I was struck by the different vibes emanating from each campus. There were a couple of schools whose student bodies were so obviously miserable that I canceled my interviews within slim minutes of setting foot in town. Others were characterized by a pervasive sense of self-importance, which was also an immediate turn-off. A student at one law school told me that it was not uncommon for peers to hide or destroy books so as to put classmates at a disadvantage. I began to despair.
Then I wandered the grounds at the University of Virginia School of Law. I felt like I was in the Wizard of Oz, switching from black and white to Technicolor. Students were radiant, friendly and engaging. The professors were solicitous, and the staff members impossibly polite. Two hours after arriving in Charlottesville, I had already signed a lease on an apartment, despite the fact that I was still supposed to visit other schools. In my heart, I knew that I had found my niche and the next three years would prove that intuition correct.
Though my classmates possessed brilliant minds, it was their gentility and decorum that were their most important attributes. UVA is not a cutthroat place, even though there is theoretically competition for grades and the high-profile jobs that follow. Accordingly, its graduates enter the practice of law with their humanity largely intact. They understand how to interact with other lawyers and their clients in a graceful, not psychotic way. The same cannot be said for alumni of some supposedly esteemed establishments. Terrorized by maniacal teachers and snubbed by scheming peers, it is no surprise that these unfortunate souls bring that aggressive milieu into their nascent legal careers.
Learning to Balance
From my perspective, no single thing is worth pursuing at the expense of all else. Success in the classroom is quite important, but so is happiness and the two are inextricably intertwined. My law school experience was far from monastic: Diligence as a student was complemented by recreational and social endeavors and the same held true for my colleagues. Learning how to balance our competing interests and desires was one of the most important lessons learned in law school, and one that serves to fuel our satisfaction with our career trajectories.
Whether holed up in the library or out on the softball field, we had fun. Contentment is a concept foreign to most law students, who carry that dystopian vision into the practice of law, making it a self-fulfilling prophecy. Every profession has its travails, but few realize that there can be real joy in being an attorney. My law school taught me that and I wish that others would imbue the same message.
No Place is Perfect
No place is perfect. I had my moments of disillusionment, none stronger than in my second year during on-campus interviewing. There was an unspoken push for everyone to land prestigious jobs at huge law firms in big cities. Laboring through interviews with pompous windbags from every corner of the country, I wondered if I would ever find my way. I realized that I would have to make my own path and there were precious few resources to help me do that. There was also a dearth of emphasis on practical legal skills. Although this is evolving, most law schools focus too heavily on the legal canon. Juris doctors leave school with an intimate knowledge of arcane torts cases, but are woefully unprepared for the realities of quotidian law practice. It is as an associate attorney, the subject of the next chapter of this series, that the “real” legal education begins.
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, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.