June's Jurisdiction: The Law Personality
What traits or temperament are most conducive to a successful career in law?
Born 4 Law
Dear Born 4 Law:
There are numerous traits that will serve you well in the legal profession. In no particular order:
- 1. The Ability to Work for Long Periods of Time with Little or No Sleep
One of the many reasons I stopped practicing law was the realization that I personally had enormous difficulty sustaining a high level of intense energy for long periods of time. Being a lawyer requires giving up sleep to meet the clients needs. In my lawyer days, I marveled at the now-deceased senior litigation partner in my group, an ex-Marine (and a heavy Scotch drinker) who would work through the night and go directly to court as if this was all in the natural order of things. Later, as a corporate lawyer, I found it physically painful to work through the night, proofreading at the printers. It would take me up to a week to regain my equilibrium after stumbling home at 5 a.m. and returning to work four hours later.
2. Attention to Detail to a Degree Most Would Find Anal
The legal profession requires attention to detail. "Good catch" is the praise that a dedicated young associate seeks when s/he finds a missing or superfluous comma, an unnecessary apostrophe or a deviation from parallel structure. A lawyer also needs the ability to simultaneously maintain a micro and macro perspective. Attention to detail is meaningless unless the attorney can understand how the detail advances the big picture of the client's interests overall.
3. Pragmatic Sensibility
Before going into the law you should have a realistic understanding of the profession. While idealism certainly has its place, an overly romanticized view of law is a recipe for job dissatisfaction. You should be pragmatic enough to understand the devolution of the legal profession from a discipline to (at best) a trade or (at worst) a business. It is also important to appreciate the fact that without the client, the attorney would not exist. A lawyer cannot practice law in the abstract. Lawyers who over-intellectualize an issue and forget whose interests they represent will not succeed. Successful lawyers enjoy the process of using their intellectual capacity and knowledge of the law to further a client's interests while never losing sight of the client's goals.
The analogy that works best for me is a chess game. Playing chess can be an intellectually satisfying experience once you have learned the rules and can be creative in their application. But you can't play chess unless you represent black or white; and your moves can only be evaluated in relation to the moves of the opposition. A successful lawyer enjoys the game - the process - and at the same time never forgets his/her client's goal.
4. The Ability to Play the Roles of Writer, Director and Actor (and at times,
Whether taking a deposition, examining a witness, or summing up to a jury, the successful litigator is the consummate actor who also gets to write his/her own lines and direct the performance. As a mergers and acquisitions or securities specialist, the successful corporate lawyer may also be putting his/her clients together with investment bankers who can fund emerging growth companies or underwrite a public offering. A corporate lawyer who understands the economics of a deal, has a high comfort level reading a balance sheet, can work through the various ratios that come into play in assessing the value of an acquisition and function as a consigliere to the CEO is doing exciting work. A finance lawyer who can relate the tax and securities regulatory laws to
structuring a new financial product is also engaged in intellectually challenging work.
June Eichbaum is a partner at Heidrich & Struggles. June earned her B.A. in 1972 from the University of Pennsylvania, J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center and LL.M. from New York University Law School.