I have come to the view that there is a spectrum of people in legal practice.
On one end are those that not just love the law and legal practice, they are mad about it. I categorize these fellas as the legal savants.
I love working with legal savants. They possess a natural legal mind and instinct for the law and its logic. They are attracted to legally related issues like a moth to a lightbulb. They are exuberant about it. Because of that, they are easy, fun, and great to work with. They are responsible, meticulous, and motivated. Because they take pride in doing what they do well, I don’t have to tell them how to do their work, to what quality I want it, or how to manage their time. The pleasure and interest they take in their work will see to all that.
They are hungry to learn and enjoy sharing what they know. They are grateful to be doing what they enjoy. They are perpetually interested in a legal issue or interesting case, which may or may not have anything to the work they are immediately attending to. They are always dreaming up arguments, the ideal fact patterns to launch their imagined arguments, and novel issues to think about.
And often, despite their immense passion for it, legal savants often seek no more from the law and legal practice other than to ensure the course of law and legal practice runs pure and true to the aims of justice. Of course, there is the occasional legal savant that craves both fame and fortune, but they tend to be the exception to the general.
Nowadays I try to discover legal savants and lure them to work with me. I learn a lot from legal savants besides enjoying working with and being around them.
On the other end of the spectrum are those that actually don’t like legal practice or the law. I categorize these fellas as uninclined or unsuited for law or legal practice. I’ll call them ‘the uninclined’ for ease of reference.
There are two types to the uninclined.
The first are those that are aware of their disinclination towards the law and legal practice. They know it is not for them and they are biding their time before they leave. They may or may not do good legal work but they will move on to things better suited to their nature. And that is a good thing for them.
The law and legal practice are not for everyone. So if you know it is not suited for you for whatever reason, get out as soon as you can. Rarely does one flourish in an environment they are not suited for. Head to where you feel most naturally inclined.
There was a pupil we had a while back who I thought had the nascent skills for legal practice. However, I could see that despite her ability, her work at times seemed to fall short of what she was capable of. Midway, I asked her whether she was interested in legal practice because I felt she was capable of much more than what she produced.
After asking her about it, she confessed she did not feel that legal practice was for her. She enjoyed the law but only with respect to reading, writing, and editing it but not getting up on her feet to perform or draft countless affidavits and applications. She preferred the literary and public communications aspect of legal practice and the law.
She was worried about confessing that to me for fear I would be upset or get angry at her. Instead, I congratulated her and told her not many knew what they were not suited for. It was good that she was aware early and pursued the path she felt meant for her instead of the one she was already on and simply proceeded with it. I told her I thought it a bit sad that she did not feel as passionate about practice given her abilities, but she is who she is and it is what it is. I would rather she be happy with her work than made miserable by it.
After her call, she avoided practice and took up a position as a communications officer with a non-governmental organization and is enjoying herself there. That to me is most important – that she takes up work that she is inclined to and suited for. So that’s a happy ending to someone who is not suited to the law. Self-awareness and self-understanding are vital to ensure we don’t end up as the second type of the uninclined.
These folk are far more menacing, negative and harmful to themselves and the profession. They are the ones that do not love or like legal practice or the law but have no awareness of it. They don’t like it, they hate it, they are indifferent to it, but for whatever reason, they are stuck in having to practice it.
When we receive no pleasure, delight, or flow from legal practice or the law, and are unaware of it, we will seek out those things elsewhere. And for those trapped in the law but hate it or are indifferent to it, the most likely places they will go to seek pleasure, delight, or flow are fortune, fame, power, adulation, sensual pleasure, self-annihilation, and anything that amplifies stimulation. They will seek it everywhere except the law and its legal practice and in doing so, harm the reputation and perception of lawyers as a whole.
The law, legal practice, its majesty, its traditions end up reduced to simply being a way to earn money and accumulate personal fame and influence. And while those may be accepted as reasons for the practice of law, it needs to be complemented by nobler reasons too. But if it remains only for those reasons then the practice of law becomes a tool of their personal narcissism and they will inevitably do a disservice to the law.
You can identify them by their loudness about their concerns over bikeshedding issues around the law and legal practice. Their loudness has a direct inverse relationship with their competency and credibility with the law and in legal practice. You can also sense them from their means justifies the end approach to things, their disregard for ethics, legal tradition and basic respect for their fellow colleagues.
The uninclined can be identified by their constant complaining, whining, and expecting things to be better without doing anything about it. Their unhappiness with what they are doing is transformed into complaints about everything about practice and its people. They think there is so much wrong with practice without ever once stopping to consider that as a person coming into the profession, we have to conform to it, not the practice conform to us.
These uninclined are the sort that imbues the working environment with toxicity and corrosiveness. They are a danger to law offices and the people within them. They don’t get along well with others, their work is of poor quality and there is no personal or professional growth about them.
I don’t let this kind of people into the firm. If they somehow escape our filters, I will make sure they will be removed immediately. Because there really is no place in a law firm for someone who does not like, never mind love, the law, and legal practice. They are danger to themselves and the people and environments around them.
As for myself, I am neither a legal savant nor an uninclined. I sit somewhere in that spectrum, which I will write about some other time.