Teach Young Lawyers Well
Article byPosted Featured AuthorNovember 2016
In the words of Graham Nash, “teach your children well.”
With that said, I believe I had a good childhood. My parents were firm but fair, and they taught me to use my words to articulate any injustice in my life — like why I NEEDED a Nintendo. Seriously, every kid had one but me. As I got older, it’s possible they regretted their decision to encourage me to speak my mind, especially when my sister and I would remind them that we controlled which nursing home we’d stick them in. The quality of living in their latter years rests on how we perceive our quality of life to be now. I know, it’s terrible and insensitive, but such is life. I hope they have a Nintendo, wherever they ultimately go.
After a childhood filled with many an “injustice,” I inevitably ended up in law school, much to my mother’s disappointment. A recovering litigator herself, my mother tried to talk me into doing something else — anything else — with my life. But I made it through law school and thankfully landed a job here in the Jackson area. But now that I interact with lawyers everyday, I’ve begun to notice similarities to my childhood.
When I show up to work, I am a fly on the wall, listening to adults shareholders talk to one another while doing my best not to interrupt. I use my words to articulate why I’m right and should get what I want. I don’t hit or bite, and I try to put my things back where I found them when I leave the office at the end of each day. But I think — even if I’d never admit it at the office — there is still control to be had by we young associates with regard to the firm’s future.
Growing up in Jackson, I had the opportunity — and sometimes misfortune — to be surrounded by lawyers. But lawyers don’t run into each other as much anymore. This especially hurts young lawyers, because we miss out on some really good advice from folks who have been in the trenches for a long time. In my mother’s case, I think a very long time. This advice is key, because many successful firms are full of folks who have capitalized on that advice to get ahead. And without that advice, many associates are left to sort of reinvent the wheel, hurting the firm in the end.
When I was sworn in a few months ago, I had an opportunity to get some really good advice. My boss and I were both equally ready for me to get to work the Monday after bar results came out. I figured getting sworn in was better than getting sworn at, so the two of us went to the Hinds County Chancery Court on ex parte day. We went to Judge Patricia Wise’s chambers so we could knock things out and get back to the office. The quicker we got through this, the quicker I could begin an associate’s time-honored duty of completing the work no one else wanted. It should have been pretty streamlined, but I didn’t get away so easily.
Judge Wise decided that, instead of administering the oath quietly in chambers, she would open court for a ceremony. From the bench, she first asked my boss to introduce me to the other attorneys, attorneys who were there to do actual, meaningful work. (More importantly, they were on the clock and I was not.) She then asked me to introduce myself. As a Rushing, this typically does not end well. She finally gave me the oath, signed my license, and asked me to turn around and address the court. I was to tell everyone in the courtroom why I wanted to be a lawyer. I told them I had already used all my other excuses to wear a suit. Then, she had everyone stand up, one by one, and give me advice on being a new lawyer.
I was nervous. These lawyers were waiting for their turn to present something presumably much more important to them than some new kid getting sworn in. I was just one more mouth to feed. But the advice I got was on the spot, meat-and-potatoes advice given by folks who really practice law. This was advice born of tried and true experience. Some of it was intuitive: call your clients; don’t be a jerk to the other attorney, even if he files things at the last minute ALL of the time (while glancing at one of the other attorneys in the room); and when you make a mistake, own up to it immediately, because it’s easier to fix it on the front end than to pay sanctions on the back. But whether or not the advice was intuitive, that wasn’t the point.
These lawyers handed down a little part of their life and experience that they thought would serve me well as I embarked on my journey into the practice of law. And under the gaze of the Judge in front of whom their cases were immediately pending, they made it count. That advice is hard to come by these days, so when we get it, we must see the bigger picture. This is the passage of guidance that spans generations of practitioners.
Young lawyers: As we are admitted to courts all across the state of Mississippi, it is important to remember those who give us their advice. Shrug the details off if you want, but absorb the message. Take it and give thanks. Appreciate the opportunity to interact with those who came before us. Reflect on our new responsibility to pass down what we learn to others in the future. Granted, my current level of legal wisdom couldn’t lead kindergarteners to a playground (nor would they follow me). But as I take it in and relish the embarrassment of what hopefully will — but surely won’t — be my last call-out in Chancery court, I’m building a wealth of experience that is only as good as my willingness to share it with others.
Shareholders: Teach your children well; we are still learning to walk. We have the same ambition to be great lawyers that you had when you first started. Or maybe we just want to be the next Perry Mason. Either way, it’s much harder to get there without opportunities to learn from your experience. Lawyers don’t talk at Primos as much anymore.1 As some of you move towards retirement, your quality of life and legacy will rest on what we learn now. We both want your firms to be left in capable hands. We all want Nintendos.
I’m incredibly thankful for the advice I received on the first day of my journey in the legal world. And I’m blessed to continue to learn from lawyers for whom I have great respect. Although I still have a lot of learning to do, I’m cognizant that one day I’ll be passing the torch as well. I can only hope the knowledge and experience that I pass on will be the right sort of stuff. Because I want to be put out to the best of pastures one day myself, and I think that’s the point.
- Terryl Rushing, It’s Just Lawyers Talking at Primos, Capital Area Bar Association, (April 2016), http://caba.ms/articles/features/lawyers-talking-primos.html