James E. Brill 2014-10-28 00:26:56
To reach your full potential, look beyond bravado and books. If you can’t run with the big dogs, you’ve got to stay on the porch. It’s an old expression and too many lawyers in general—and solos in particular—have taken it to heart. They find themselves in awe of the big dogs and convinced that they have been relegated to a career on the porch. All of us endured times in law school learning to think like a lawyer. Part of that experience was reciting case law in class and being intimidated by our inability to match wits with the professors. Most of us recovered, but others never got over the exposure of gaping cracks in what had been their armor of academic invincibility. Law schools are well known for teaching students how to think like lawyers, but they are not well regarded for teaching how to practice like a lawyer. Now they are even being sued for making overly generous representations regarding opportunities for their graduates. In recent years, the economy has reduced employment opportunities. Many law school graduates have no choice but to become self-employed to avoid being unemployed. For others, there is the incessant treadmill of unreasonable quotas of billable hours. Those who have the endurance and are able to run that gauntlet are seen by many as being “big dogs” when they become partners. For a variety of reasons, I have spent the majority of my career as a self-employed lawyer. When I began practicing, I was in an obscure office building, but the booksellers found me anyway. And they could see that I was on the porch. They deftly played on my insecurities to convince me that if I were to succeed as a lawyer and thus run with the big dogs, all I needed was several sets of law books. The result was a lot of brand new books with inevitable unending payments. It didn’t take long for me to realize that a law library would not be the ticket for me to get off the porch. Even today, the law book companies offer products that promise all lawyers that they can compete against the big firms. Well, lawyers in those big firms may be your opponents, but they generally are not your competition. Some lawyers try bravado to convince others (and no doubt themselves) that they have what it takes to succeed. The fact is that few, if any, lawyers are as self-sufficient as they appear to be, but their need to be running with the big dogs is irresistible. A lawyer’s reputation is not often the result of show or smoke and mirrors—or at least a good reputation is not. A good reputation is built on honesty, dependability, performance, service, and talent. As lawyers develop good reputations, they also develop confidence and that confidence engenders pride and greater professional satisfaction, resulting in better service to their clients. There is another ingredient that sets lawyers apart: service to the profession. “Giving back” is a term frequently applied to pro bono activities. For certain people, it is called “paying it forward.” Whatever you choose to call this service, it can be the most rewarding part of your practice. If you participate in bar activities, you will meet your fellow lawyers in a non-adversarial setting and find yourself surrounded by some of the nicest, most-dedicated people. Some of these attorneys have well-deserved reputations as great trial lawyers. Others are well-known authors or lecturers. Others are not as well known but just want to do their share. To me, all of these lawyers are the real “big dogs” of the profession and they got that way by simply getting off the porch. JAMES E. BRILL is a 1957 University of Texas School of Law graduate and a solo practitioner from Houston whose practice emphasizes probate, estate planning, and real estate. He has been the principal author of every edition of the Texas Probate System and is a recipient of the Presidents’ Award from the State Bar of Texas.
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