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Your legal career as an herb garden

Herb gardenI grew up on a farm that had several greenhouses, and I operated a garden design business throughout college and law school. This experience inevitably comes up in conversation when people ask about my background before becoming an attorney.

Often, our discussion will automatically shift from legal subject matter to anything about plants, meaning I begin to field questions such as: What plants should one plant for a butterfly garden? Why are my canna lilies not blooming?

I thought I would kill two birds with one stone here and impart both plant knowledge and share my own professional goals, drawing parallels between the skills needed to maintain a healthy container herb garden and the skills that I aspire to improve upon as a young lawyer:

1. Growing habits. Know the growing habits of your plants individually and collectively before you plant them together in a container. For example, thyme and oregano are cascaders that need to be planted on the edge of the planter while rosemary and basil grow upright and should be in the middle. Mint, although versatile and easy to grow, does not work well with other herbs in a container because it will dominate.

Similarly, for the harmony of your own working environment, you should make a point to become familiar with the personalities of clients, co-workers, superiors, etc. Knowing their various preferences will help guide your interactions with them and eliminate possible misunderstandings and disappointment.

2. Drainage is key with herbs; almost all need to be in soil that drains well. Therefore, you should never plant herbs in containers with no holes. With no outlet for escape, the water will sit and rot the roots. Standing water is also prime environment for pathogens.

Work is like water — we need it to survive, but we need to make sure that we, like the roots of the plants, are not constantly surrounded by it. Find outlets: join a gym, see your friends, etc.

3. Fertilize. In a container garden, the herbs are limited to the nutrients that are in the soil in that specific container. Like us, plants need more than just water. They need nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium. In our careers, we need to look outside our “container” and always be bringing in new information by going to CLE events and keeping abreast of changes in the areas of law that we practice. Like a healthy herb garden, a robust legal profession requires seeking skills and information outside the scope of your everyday practice.

4. Pinch back. Plants devote significant energy to upward growth so that they may be exposed to more sunlight and therefore maximize photosynthesis processes of the sun’s energy. In pursuing this sunlight, most plants undergo a phenomenon known as apical dominance. This means that the plant will have one large main stem as it pursues upward growth, and because it expends much of its resources to grow upward, lateral growth becomes inhibited. By spending all of its energy upward, it misses opportunities to develop a stronger form and more seed-bearing opportunities.

By pinching back the tip of this main stem, known as the apical bud, all of the lateral buds along the main stem that were previously dormant will begin to grow, resulting in significantly more plant growth as lateral shoots.

If you’re in private law, your “sun” is probably partner track. While it is important to keep our eyes on the prize, try to make sure that you pay attention to the colleagues at your level and branch out laterally too. Don’t use all of your energy to grow upwards and risk underdevelopment on the lateral level.

5. Dead-head. Be sure to remove the dead flower head from the plant after it flowers so that the plant will not expend any more of its resources nurturing something that will no longer be beneficial.

Similarly, get rid of excess and be organized and efficient so that you’re not unnecessarily diverting energy toward something that will never come to fruition.