Michael P. Maslanka 2017-12-20 04:46:11
Five suggestions for new lawyers. Dear New Lawyer: Hand to heart, well done! Here are five suggestions to consider now that you are part of our profession. I label them “suggestions” to “consider” because I do not desire any of you to become a Mini-Me. I agree with the anonymous person who said: be yourself, everyone else is taken. These suggestions are designed to provoke thought, generate discussions, and illuminate the road ahead. All will help you become the best possible version of yourself. 1) Be the co-pilot you would want to have That is prospective hindsight. Imagine the future and then reengineer it to the present. When I was a law firm managing partner I always asked new lawyers, “Why do airplanes crash?” The answers were across the spectrum. Here is what I was looking for: Airplanes crash because the co-pilot sees a blinking red light on the console but says zip. Why? Because he or she thinks the 37-year veteran pilot would surely know if something is wrong. He or she doesn’t want to look dumb, or worse, get yelled at. And so, that’s why airplanes crash. Have the integrity to speak up. By the way, I think I know what you’re thinking—What do I know? You’d be surprised what fresh eyes can see that more experienced ones cannot. 2) Be humble Being humble shows strength, not weakness. Humbleness has gotten an undeserved bad rap. Jim Murphy trains Olympic athletes and he writes in his book Inner Excellence that the most humble people he has ever met are the Navy SEALs. Why? Because they know that the enemy gets a vote. So, they ask: Should we burst through the front door, or crawl through the back window, or rappel down the side of the house? Or should we even attack at all? The next time you are routing a pro se litigant or whipping up on an opposing lawyer dealt a bad hand, don’t get too full of yourself. Remember: It’s easy to hit someone when you’re not getting hit. 3) Be open to the universe A bartender in Austin taught me that last line about hitting. I was sipping my vodka martini and it turns out that he teaches mixed martial arts. He first instructs new students how to hit. They love that. Once they can, he shows them how to get hit. They don’t love that. I could have ignored him and just nursed my drink. I’m glad I didn’t. All sorts of people can teach you all sorts of things. Things that amuse, enlighten, and inform. You may not listen, however, because as a new lawyer, you will be too busy seeking approval and validation. You will become distracted from what really matters. This need makes for metaphorical earplugs. Don’t pop them in, and if they’re in now, pop them out. 4) Be in the water to catch the wave I promise “safe and steady” will never get you to where you want to go. It’s physics—do nothing, nothing happens. Have a bias toward action. In The Drunkard’s Walk, a statistician writes that chance and circumstance control our lives. But he urges, do not despair. There are three things, he writes, that each of us is in 100 percent control of: the number of people you meet, the chances you take, and the times you go to bat. Here’s the math: Do more of these three things to change and circumstances will favor you. It’s inexorable. 5) Be gracious Winston Churchill and Neville Chamberlain were bitter political foes. In 1941, it fell to Churchill to deliver Chamberlain’s eulogy. Chamberlain was an easy target: the image of him disembarking the plane from Germany, waving a piece of paper in the wind or naively intoning “peace for our time.” Churchill rose above it all: “In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting.” Today’s heroes are tomorrow’s goats; today’s goats are tomorrow’s heroes. Churchill takes the long view and I hope you do as well. A short story to illuminate my point: I was a new lawyer—a boy from Buffalo, New York, in deep East Texas prosecuting a local company for violating the National Labor Relations Act. On day one of the trial, opposing counsel—a 75-year-old local lawyer—ambled over to me and said, “You’re our guest. Let me take you to lunch.” Whereupon I pompously remarked, “I am a federal lawyer. It would not look right for me to do so.” His expression was a mixture of pity and amusement. “I have been a lawyer for 40 years—in more important cases than this pissant one and not one of my opposing counsel has ever refused my offer of lunch.” I just have this to say: The salmon croquettes at the hospital cafeteria were really pretty good. Final suggestion: Don’t live a happy life. Live a fulfilled life. The first has its highs and lows, the second is steady and strong. Very truly yours, Michael P. Maslanka Professor, UNT | Dallas College of Law MICHAEL P. MASLANKA is an assistant professor of law at UNT Dallas College of Law and is publishing two books this year, Maslanka’s Field Guide to Texas Employment Law and Learning Employment Law, of which he is a co-author
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