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Leaving school behind for the practice of law

Nineteen years. That’s how long I had been in school by the time I received my law degree. Knowing that I would never have to set foot in a classroom again was extremely satisfying. The learning was done; it was time to make a living, I thought.

Boy, was I wrong.

What no one told me, and what I quickly realized, is that the learning never stops when you are a lawyer. And if you want to be a good one, you need to seek out opportunities to improve your craft. Every day, you can pick up something new in the practice of law, and you can always do more to add to your “toolbox.” Among other things, you can read law reviews and bar journals, review appellate opinions as they are published, and you can attend continuing legal education classes. Although Maryland does not yet have mandatory CLE requirements, there are plenty of opportunities out there for attorneys to continue their legal education. I have attended several CLEs and always found them extremely helpful.

Nothing compares, however, to the CLE for which I have just registered. I am lucky to work at a firm where the partnership cares about the associates’ development as much as billable hours. So, when I indicated I was interested in fine-tuning my trial advocacy skills, they answered with a CLE of epic proportions: an intense, one-week, hands-on trial advocacy course, where I will execute two trials, both of which will be video-taped and scrutinized by faculty. This isn’t a half-day in a hotel conference room; this is school, something I swore I would never do again. But I couldn’t be more excited.

The reason for my change of heart is quite simple. At all the CLEs that I attended, I would notice something. There would always be a few attorneys there who seemed out of place: attorneys who had been practicing law for several years, attorneys whose names I recognized. What were they doing there?

Then it clicked. Maybe one of the reasons these attorneys had fostered successful careers was because they actively worked at getting better at their jobs.

Although mandatory CLEs are a hot topic for debate, it cannot be disputed that jumping at opportunities to improve your knowledge and skills is a good idea.

It is a cliché for sure, but it is true: it is called the “practice of law” for a reason.

I head back to “school” in November. I look forward to reporting back to you all about my experience. In the meantime, what are your favorite methods for staying sharp in your practice?

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