Legal legends

A collateral benefit of being a judicial law clerk is the opportunity to rub elbows with “legal legends” on a daily basis. These legends are the elder statesmen of our profession: judges, retired judges and lawyers who have practiced law for longer than I’ve been alive.

I’m the kind of person who loves a great war story. Nothing excites me more than to hear about a lawyer’s great Atticus Finch moment, or a judge’s clever retort on the record. Legal legends have the best war stories around and as a law clerk, I’ve been blessed with the chance to hear many.

The stories I’ve heard about the way practicing law used to be — when lawyers were colorful characters and local celebrities, when lawyers had a strong sense of decorum and civility, when spending an evening discussing cases with your partners over a drink was the norm, when lawyers liked being lawyers — make me feel nostalgic for a time I never knew.

It can be so easy to burn out as a young lawyer. The daily grind can make you question why you ever decided to do this in the first place. Spending time with a legal legend can be a serious source of inspiration and remind you of the goals you had when you started this profession. It would be a non-billable hour or two well spent.

Know a great story from a legal legend? Pay homage in the comments section.

In praise of working during the last week of the year

Most offices are ghost towns during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. With partners on vacation and annual billables already calculated, it seems like the perfect time for a young lawyer to escape, right?

Well, maybe. It’s certainly a good week to vacation without losing much “face time” if that’s important to you. I’d argue, however, that the last week of the year is an opportune time for young lawyers to go to work.

With fewer people e-mailing and calling you, it’s a great time to catch up on all of the things you’ve been meaning to do but haven’t had time.

Want to write an article for publication? Start researching. Have a stack of files that need to be archived? Clean house. Wondering what’s new with your old classmates? Spend some time on LinkedIn and Google. Wishing folks a happy new year is an excellent excuse to reconnect.

Of course, there’s also the perks of having unbridled access to holiday party leftovers, and, if you’re really lucky, skipping the suit and tie. A lawyer I know works in a position where vacation days, not billable hours, are counted.

Instead of taking off during the last week of the year, he “vacations in place” and saves his paid leave for the warmer months. No matter what your motive, I think working during the last week of the year could be the best week of the year to work.

Car-free and carefree?

Anyone who knows me knows I have awful luck with cars. It seems like every set of wheels I’ve had since I got my license was cursed — my first car caught fire due to a freak electrical short, another car was hit twice by drivers that didn’t leave notes and I’ve probably had close to a dozen flat tires.

I’ve had enough. Last week I sold my car.

My fiancé and I decided to be a real live city-living, one-Volvo-driving couple. His practice is primarily in Baltimore and he has always taken the bus to work. I’ll use the car during the week for my brief commute and hope there are no more car calamities.

So far (it’s only been a week) things are working out, mostly because our current schedules are relatively predictable. But I’m curious – are there any young lawyers out there who share a car or have given up car ownership altogether? Is it possible to practice law in Maryland without a vehicle?

Keep your friends – stop talking about being a lawyer

This past weekend, I went to a wedding in Scranton for my fiancé’s childhood friend, who happens to be a lawyer. When we arrived at the reception, we anticipated we would be seated at Table 7 with the Baltimore folks.

But when we checked our seating card, we were at Table 17. When we made our way to our seats and introduced ourselves to our tablemates, we quickly realized why we were seated at Table 17: it was the “lawyer” table.

We sat with the groom’s law school and work friends, along with their spouses. Everyone was a lawyer, with the exception of one poor fellow. While the rest of us rambled on and traded war stories, the non-lawyer listened patiently and feigned interest in depositions and judicial nominations.

This phenomenon starts in law school. When I went out with classmates, sometimes their boyfriends or girlfriends would tag along, only to find they had nothing to contribute to our conversations. And they certainly didn’t find it funny when one of us took their seat, claiming adverse possession.

It seems that while we gained a legal education, we lost the ability to socialize like normal humans. Of course, it’s only natural to talk about what we spend a huge part of our lives doing, especially amongst comrades. But for our own sanity – and the sanity of our non-lawyer mates – we should make a point to keep it brief (no pun intended)!

Sick daze

It’s that time of year again: everyone I know is sick, myself included. Working in the courthouse is almost like working in a school — it feels like every pen, door handle and elevator button is covered in germs and, at the rate I use it, I am seriously considering buying stock in a hand sanitizer company.

With the close quarters in chambers, it seems like everyone has been ill in the last month. But all of us still show up to work. Why?

I don’t use my sick days because I have a well-developed guilt complex and loathe the idea of someone else having to pick up my slack (though apparently 29 percent of workers don’t feel the same way). Oftentimes your schedule is out of your hands — court dates are rarely rescheduled because of the common cold.

But this begs the question: are you really being a help to your co-workers by showing up to work sick? There’s no doubt that your productivity is less than 100 percent when you’re feeling crummy, and the more harmful effect of “presenteeism” is getting your co-workers sick, too.

Even knowing all of this, I still showed up to work under the weather last week, and I’d venture to say, most other young lawyers would too. Do yourself (and your work mates) a favor and take some preventative measures, like getting a flu shot and washing your hands.

If you end up getting sick and you don’t have time to make a regular doctor’s appointment, head to the nearest Patient First or health clinic. I went on Sunday and was in and out, with a filled prescription, in 30 minutes. They’re open 365 days a year with evening hours — perfect for young lawyers with documents to review and hours to bill.

It’s almost November…do you know where your pro bono hours are?

Those annual pro bono legal service reports will be showing up in your mailbox soon, and as December quickly approaches, now is a good time to evaluate the number of pro bono hours you’ve completed this year.

As a Maryland lawyer, you have a professional responsibility to render pro bono legal services — and according to the Maryland Rules of Professional Conduct, you should aspire to render at least 50 hours of pro bono legal services a year.

With that being said, pro bono service isn’t a chore — it’s a mutually beneficial experience, especially for young lawyers. While clients receive free legal representation, the lawyer has an opportunity to gain valuable experience and work on important cases affecting the lives of real people.

If you’re one of many young lawyers searching for a job, pro bono service can help you add to your résumé and prevent your skills from atrophying. If you are lucky enough to have a job, pro bono service can give you the opportunity to step outside of your “regular” work and expand your skill set.

Most pro bono organizations have staff attorneys that you can contact with questions if you are outside of your realm. A pro bono case I took on this year landed me in criminal district court, a place I probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen as a bankruptcy and creditors’ rights associate.

In this economy, the demand for pro bono services is high and there are a lot of great organizations that connect attorneys to low-income people needing legal assistance.  Check out Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service and the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland to get started. Also, be sure to check for other local pro bono opportunities through your local bar association.

As the holidays approach and your calendar fills, be sure to make some time for pro bono work — you won’t regret it.