So you want to be a criminal lawyer...

A Lesson for Burgeoning Lawyers from Dr. Seuss

One of my favourite books of all time is the children’s book ‘Oh the Places You’ll Go’ by Dr. Seuss.  I read this book to my son almost every week and it has a lesson in there that I think is good advice for all lawyers.  The book cautions its young readers (or listeners) as follows:

You will come to a place where the streets are not marked.
Some windows are lighted.  But mostly they’re darked.
A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!
Do you dare to stay out? Do you dare to go in?
How much can you lose? How much can you win?

And IF you go in, should you turn left or right…
or right-and-three-quarters? Or, maybe, not quite?
Or go around back and sneak in from behind?
Simple it’s not, I’m afraid you will find,
for a mind-maker-upper to make up his mind.

You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

The message of Dr. Seuss is that you want to avoid the Waiting Place and in order to do so, you have to make decisions as difficult as they may be.  Nobody said that being an adult is simple, but part of being an adult is making adult decisions. If you do not make those decisions, you are effectively making the decision for nothing to happen and to end up in the Waiting Place where, as Dr. Seuss says, is a most useless place.

I always think of law school when I read this book and about the Waiting Place.  Making a decision about what area to practice is hard for a law student or a student before law school.  

But it is really important to know that corporate lawyers and criminal lawyers have absolutely nothing in common in terms of what they do with their lives on a daily basis.

 Law students, in my view, should be figuring out which area of practice interests them before law school. At the very latest, this should be done during law school and should be figured out by the time a person graduates and looks for meaningful work.  This does not mean that a person cannot choose a particular area of law and then change focus after learning more about it, but to graduate from law school having not targeted an area of practice reveals, in my view, an unwillingness to make difficult decisions.

To those that would argue with me about this point, I would simply put another scenario that I contend is comparable: if you met a 27-year-old that told you that they did not know if they wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer, would it be impressive?  For me, it would signal a lack of direction to that point in the person’s life and a lack of doing the kinds of things that are necessary in order to make that decision and that those things signify being an adult. I do not consider it any different if I meet a 27 year old who has finished law school and tells me that they are not sure if they want to be a criminal lawyer or a corporate lawyer.  That is not a problem that I have any interest in assisting with.

There are many things that a person can and should do to avoid this problem.  The advice I would give to law students and pre-law students is to meet with lawyers, go to court, go to tribunals, ask questions, send e-mails and really try to figure out what area of practice interests you and where your skills and abilities lie.  In exactly the way that it is unimpressive to me when someone tells me they do not know what they want to do, it is very impressive to me if someone is able to articulate why they are interested in a particular practice area and what they have done to cultivate that interest and arrive at that conclusion.  It is also such a vital task because there is little to no overlap between the different practice areas in law.

The law schools, in my view, are not very good at providing resources to focus students on a particular practice area.  A lot still depends on the student and his or her own initiative. Nonetheless, we are all ultimately responsible for ourselves and it is often amazing to me when I meet with law students how little they have actually done to figure out which area of practice they are interested in.  Whenever I encounter this situation, I always think of Dr. Seuss and his lesson for children: it may not be easy, but you have to make a decision or risk heading to a most useless place, the Waiting Place.

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