Vail Daily column: Trial by fire
Editor’s note: This is the third part of a series about the education of a lawyer.
Jet lag weighed down my eyelids as I donned a suit once again for the first time. This was no ordinary morning; it was my first day as an associate attorney and I was terrified. Fresh off a thrilling two-month trek through Oceania and Asia, I was suddenly confronted by the hard reality of my imminent legal career. Despite three years of law school and two summers as an intern, I felt woefully unprepared for the leap into actual practice. As the elevator doors opened to the 16th floor, I was inundated by the hustle and bustle of a swarm of paralegals and lawyers. Dumbstruck, I walked down the hall, acutely aware that my concerns were valid: I had so much to learn. And then Marbury walked into my office and my legal education began in earnest.
A Few Good Mentors
Marbury Rainer is a Southern gentleman with a law degree from Harvard and a heart bigger than his home state of Alabama. He had hired me as a summer clerk and now, I joined his firm as an actual lawyer. It was a daunting endeavor, not because Marbury was some species of tyrant (far from it!), but because he was such an exemplar that following in his footsteps would be nigh impossible. The problem was compounded because Parker, Hudson, Rainer & Dobbs was and is populated by like-minded lawyers, who are hip-smart, passionate, hard-working, conscientious and just plain nice. Marbury, Bill, Wayne, David, Ron, Paul, Charlie, Tommy, Travis and their fellow partners were an almost unbelievable coterie of mentors. Each had their own style, but were uniform in their adherence to a strict ethical code.
The standard set by one’s first legal bosses is incredibly influential to a young lawyer. Because there is such a wide swath of knowledge to glean, a new attorney takes most of his/her cues from the people who have the most experience. In my budding career, I had the amazing fortune to have the doors of many partners’ offices open to me, all of whom were keen to show me the ropes. Fortunately, they were all the kind of lawyers to which everyone in the profession should aspire. They also possessed an uncanny amount of patience; it must have been hard to watch me stumble with work that they considered basic. Yet, they understood that grooming a young lawyer is not about instant gratification. It takes years to craft an effective attorney out of the ramshackle form that left law school. I truly believe that their interest was making me into the best lawyer that I could be instead of simply trying to turn a profit.
Not everyone is so lucky. In the same way that an abusive father can create a cycle of abuse in his kin, a maniacal/sadistic mentor can send the message that it is acceptable to cut corners, to treat people poorly, to yell, to be rude, to waste client money and to do all of the reprehensible things that give our profession a black eye. Since it is typically assumed that a lawyer has to act that way, the precedent of a bad mentor simply reinforces the negative stereotype. Worse, once the mentee grows up to become a partner, he imparts the imprudence on to his associate, and so on in a dire chain of succession. Mentors that do not take the long view on young lawyer development end up forcing their wards into untenable situations in a desperate attempt to make a buck. They lash out when mistakes are made and money lost and make it readily apparent to their charges that the bottom line is all that matters, no matter the human or emotional cost.
Sink or Swim
My mentors were not afraid to let me test myself, but only in a prudent manner. Unlike many of my peers, I was not eased into the law business. Almost immediately, I was in the mix, representing clients in small trials and other matters where I could not do too much damage. Each case, regardless of size, was a better lesson than years of formal schooling. An imperfect question, an improper offer of evidence or a breach of an unspoken rule of etiquette were all chances to learn and to improve. Instead of being compartmentalized writing memos or reviewing documents for one part of a case, I had the chance to understand the whole picture and to intuit how each small decision in the path of lawsuit can impact the outcome.
Now that we three partners at RKV Law find ourselves in the position of having an associate, I only hope that we can provide Georgina with the same mentoring and education that I was so fortunate to receive. Based on her performance to date, she may actually be teaching us some things soon!
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 Mr. Voboril at 970-306-6456, email@example.com, or please visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.