Adventures in Mentoring

Two “requests” arrives yesterday, one from a young lawyer and another from a law student, interested in finding an experienced lawyer to guide them in their quest for success.  The law student cold-called, informing me that he had taken crimlaw and wants to be a criminal defense lawyer.  What should he do?

I chose my words carefully: Walk over to the courthouse and sit in a busy courtroom for a day.  Say nothing.  Just listen.  Go back the next day and ask any lawyer who you think won’t bite your head off if you can work for him for nothing, carry his briefcase and fetch his coffee, just to be around a real lawyer doing real lawyer work.  And if you’re truly ambitious, go to the Legal Aid Society and offer yourself for anything, absolutely anything, you can do to help.

He responded, “What’s legal aid?”

I sighed. “Do you know anything about the actual practice of criminal law,” I asked?  He informed me that he didn’t, which was why he was calling me.  I suggested he wasn’t ready yet.  He asked if he could call me back in a month.  I told him no. Maybe a year.

The young lawyer sent me a humorous email, with the subject line “New Lawyer Looking For Free Advice.”

The subject line may already have you mentally working on a post that involves something about Avvo Answers and Slackoisie, but please hear me out.

I’ve been an attorney now for a little more than two years. Until recently, I worked for a small town “general practice” firm (criminal defense, divorce, and a little of whatever we can get). I just went solo, and I’m trying hard to figure out how I should do things now that I’m the one in charge.

I’ve been reading your blog for perhaps more than a year now, though I don’t think I’ve ever left a comment .  I sometime have put fingers to keyboard thinking I’d tell you my opinion, but usually thought it best to keep it to myself. After all, I have a diploma that says I can charge money for my opinions, so why should I give them away for free?

I know you don’t owe us young attorneys anything, but I appreciate your being willing to give your opinions away for free.  Most of the stuff out there is from marketers, law professors, or law students… I’m glad to have your perspective on things.

Most of your posts about my generation address our weaknesses. However, should you ever decide to write a post or two that started off with something like “If I were a new attorney just starting out, I’d…”, I’m sure it would help a few of us new attorneys. I know I’d love to read it.

This is the lawyer equivalent of “explain World War II; use both sides of the paper if necessary.”  I immediately googled SJ and solo practice, informing him that I’ve written quite a bit on the subject over the years and it’s all there to be read.  He could, of course, have looked on his own.

Both of these young men are to be commended for making an effort to improve their knowledge and circumstances.  It beats the hell out of sitting around feeling sad or complaining bitterly that things aren’t working out the way mommy promised.  Yet it’s not enough.

Mike Cernovich posted yesterday about  Henry Rollins and the death of mentorship.  It’s like mentorship was in the water, from sea to shining sea.  Mike makes two very strong points, that Rollins’ mentor didn’t coddle him or build up false self-esteem, but gave him an exercise routine, then punched him in the solar plexus regularly.

Weeks passed, and every once in a while Mr. P. would give me a shot and drop me in the hallway, sending my books flying. The other students didn’t know what to think. More weeks passed, and I was steadily adding new weights to the bar. I could sense the power inside my body growing. I could feel it.

Right before Christmas break I was walking to class, and from out of nowhere Mr. Pepperman appeared and gave me a shot in the chest. I laughed and kept going. He said I could look at myself now. I got home and ran to the bathroom and pulled off my shirt. I saw a body, not just the shell that housed my stomach and my heart. My biceps bulged. My chest had definition. I felt strong. It was the first time I can remember having a sense of myself. I had done something and no one could ever take it away. You couldn’t say s–t to me.

Need another example?  Think Karate Kid, the original and not the new one.  You loved the movie, but would never have survived the regime.  It was hard work and painful to gain, even though it was fun to watch while sitting in a comfy chair eating Cheetos.

Mike’s second point is that any mentor pushing his charge to excel is likely to be reported to the police as an abuser of one sort or another. 

Today a man who invited a boy into the weight room to lift would be called a pedophile. Would you be alone in a room with a young boy? I sure as fuck wouldn’t. Projecting her own Oedipus fantasy, some meddling bitch would call the police on me, explaining that any interest with a young boy must be sexual.

Sadly, he’s got a very good point.  Mr. Miyagi would be on the sex offender registry today, and the hand-wringers would explain in a high-pitched, whiny voice that we have to protect the children.

While both the young lawyer and law student who contacted me yesterday have already done more than most, simply by lifting a finger, it’s a start but that’s not good enough.  Am I to spoon-feed them the magic answers to lawyer success?  Why does one want to be a criminal defense lawyer, yet find the words “Legal Aid” foreign?  Why does the other ask me to write a post about starting a new practice without bothering to read what I’ve already written?

Expectations are low and getting lower.  Tender tones of empathy may be pleasing to your ears but won’t make anyone a competent lawyer.  There is a hallelujah chorus telling young people that success is just a magic bullet away.  There are a few voices calling bullshit.  I’m one of them.  If you don’t have the initiative to do the heavy lifting, you will never be able to take a punch in the solar plexus.  And life will deliver plenty of punches.

The question you need to ask is whether you want to be able to take a punch and keep on going, or fall down and have the chorus sing a four part sympathetic harmony.

One comment on “Adventures in Mentoring

  1. Thomas R. Griffith

    Sir, if I may? To the student: By now, you have learned what Legal Aid is.

    By now, you know the definition of ‘Defense’. Now you must learn what it means to Defend? If you are not being taught the basics, consider taking a self defense class, where you’ll see what it looks and feels like to tap-out. Only then will you be ready for the real world. Good luck in your endeavors, now get over to the court-house & earn that ‘D’. Thanks.

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