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Some advice for the Class of 2016

Congratulations! My wife reminded me this past weekend that it was ten years ago last week that she and I walked across the stage at the Lyric Opera House in Baltimore and received our diplomas from The University of Maryland (not yet “Carey”) School of Law.

In no particular order, here are a few tidbits of unsolicited advice that I’ll throw your way now that you have earned your law degrees:

1. Pass the bar exam. Self-explanatory. Yes, there are jobs that only require a J.D. and don’t require licensure. But those jobs are few and far between. Take the bar exam seriously, take a prep course, and don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees when it comes to learning (or re-learning) legal principles. Master concepts, not cases. And don’t start seven-days-a-week of study until early July. Otherwise, you’ll burn yourself out long before exam day.

2. Seek out mentors. Mentors can offer everything from practical advice relating to client/firm/case management to simple insight into a particular judge who you’ll be appearing before. The Maryland State Bar Association (free membership for new admittees) and many local bar associations offer mentor-mentee programs. And once you have a mentor, don’t be shy about contacting him or her for advice. Many of us sign up to be mentors because we benefited from having one. Being a mentor is a small way we can pay it forward.

3. Know that your career path will be winding. You’ve probably got decades to go until retirement. Statistically, it is highly unlikely that your first job out of law school will be where you retire. Moreover, it is very likely that 10 years from now you will end up practicing in a field of law or in a practice setting that is entirely different than where you are starting. Change is uncomfortable. It is unsettling. But it is often extremely necessary. And it is normal.

4. Be entrepreneurial. The private law firm is a service-oriented business. We market ourselves to clients who seek our services and agree to pay fees in return for those services. While clinical experiences in law school may have taught you what it’s like to communicate with a client, opposing counsel or the court, rare is the experience in law school that teaches you how to grow and develop a business plan.  As you practice, be on the lookout for emerging areas of law or under-served client bases that you can target for professional and business growth and which make sense from a business perspective.

Finally, you’ve probably dealt with endless jokes (some told in a not-so-joking way) over the past three years questioning your sanity for choosing to go to law school. But there will always be a need for lawyers. It may be a different kind of need than that which existed a generation before us (or even 10 years ago, when I graduated), but it will always be a profession in demand.

Be proud of your profession, be proud of your accomplishment in graduating law school and, when you pass the bar, promise never to refer to yourself with the “Esq.” suffix except for in papers that you file with the court.

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