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The teacher becomes the student

When I entered law school in August 2005, I was already 29, married and my wife was expecting our first child. I had been a teacher since I was 21 and continued to teach high school English until 2008 when I graduated. After an appellate clerkship, I began representing mostly plaintiffs at a firm in Montgomery County.

Over the last few years, I’ve represented plaintiffs in all kinds of cases, from motor vehicle accidents to medical malpractice to a worksite electrical explosion. I’ve also handled some general litigation — insurance coverage matters, business disputes — and even a corporate investigation.

I recently moved to the Bethesda office of Offit Kurman and, more specifically, to its landlord representation group. This means that I represent landlords in all aspects of their businesses, including litigation. I am not, however, a “young” lawyer. Moving forward, my practice will likely also continue to include representation of clients in business disputes, insurance coverage matters and some plaintiffs’ work.

At the end of the day, though, even after nearly three years of practice, I’ve still spent most of my working life as a high school English teacher. This continues to present hurdles for me.

You might recall that none of your high school English teachers had secretaries or their own office. Your high school English teacher probably didn’t keep a daily record of how much time he spent working on specific class preparation or grading papers. Needless to say, some of the harsh realities of practicing law on a daily basis had escaped me while I was a teacher, and had remained hidden during my clerkship.

When I first started practicing, I needed to get up to speed quickly: Which tasks should my secretary do? Which should I do? Should I answer my own phone or have my secretary answer it? Should I type my own letters? As you might imagine, this wasn’t an easy transition, and, truth be told, it is one I am about to undertake again at my new firm, with all the “wisdom” that almost three years of practice provides.

Perhaps most importantly, your high school English teacher likely operated with a large amount of autonomy. I know I did. As an English teacher, I would plan the lessons, decide when to give the class a quiz, reprimand jokesters and pass out homework and grades. I was the one who made the calendar and overruled my students’ objections. In short, I was the king.

As a “young” lawyer, however, I have found myself on the receiving end of orders from much more experienced attorneys — some of whom are barely older or in the rare instance, even younger, than me. I have swallowed my pride on more than one occasion and proceeded to complete my assignments without complaint. I like to think — though I am not sure — that this experience of moving from king of the classroom to lowest-rung associate has provided me with a healthy dose of humility while at the same time forcing me to handle some of the more unpleasant aspects of practicing law.

There is no doubt that it has been a huge change. But I am not complaining. My work has been interesting and invigorating. I have spoken with a diverse group of clients, handled complex matters and I feel like I am learning more law each day. All in all, I couldn’t have asked for more after approximately three years of practice.

And who knows? Perhaps moving from king of the classroom to lowly associate will actually serve me well as my career progresses and I eventually assume a more senior role.

5 comments

  1. Do you think you encountered any age snubbing when searching for jobs? I’ve read that ‘some’ law firms prefer the younger applicant as the younger number represents energy and vitality needed to clock long hours. It seems -from your post- you didn’t encounter this.

  2. And the point?

  3. @pushkin, are you responding to my question or initial post? Not sure if you’re the author.

  4. Any thoughts on how to reach out to contacts when transitioning from one firm to another to let them know the capabilities of your new firm?

  5. Di – Sorry to take so long to get back to you. I just noticed your question. My response was to the original post, not your comment. Your comment/question was quite clear. I’m not sure how my response ended up being posted after your comment. When I submitted it there were no comments on the story. I couldn’t figure out the point of the original story. It seemed more like the idle ramblings one would enter in a personal diary than a logically structured set of ideas leading to a conclusion.