Leadership: Young and In Charge (for some reason)

I have been very fortunate in my legal career to have some big responsibilities at a relatively young age. Some of this has absolutely been due to being in the right place at the right time. So much of success seems to be timing and taking advantage of opportunities as they present themselves. But there are several things I can point to as being important to what I’ve been able to accomplish. 

"Head of Youth" is licensed under CC BY 3.0.

Say yes (when it won't overload you)

I was recently driving through Grand Teton National Park. It was rainy and overcast, to the point where we could only see about a third of the way up the mountains (total bummer for any traveler there at the same time). This different view, however, pointed out the various small streams from rain and melting snow that cascaded down the mountains, having formed somewhere in the space covered by clouds. These streams collected, becoming waterfalls and rivers, eventually filling the several lakes that are found in the Teton Valley. 

When I look back at how I got here, one thing that stands out is saying yes to little opportunities and responsibilities, which would later put me in a place to say yes to bigger and more important tasks and positions. There is a momentum that comes with it. You meet people. You learn things that you are able to help others with. Saying yes isn’t about strategic decisions to advance your career, it is about furthering what is in front of you. It is about doing what you can when you don’t necessarily know what you should be doing (thanks, Captain Kirk). 

Become comfortable with people who are “supposed-to-be” different than you

In law school, I had the honor of being on the law review’s editorial board at my school. When the elections were over, I found myself the only guy on the board with seven incredibly smart and amazing women. I joked that the only thing that would have made it better was if I was single (I was one of the married-with-a-kid law students). 

Becoming comfortable with people that you are “supposed to be” different from is huge. I was lucky enough to have grown up with only sisters and quite close to my mom’s four sisters. I don’t remember ever having to learn the value and abilities of women because it was normal. My law review experience was just building something with the most qualified people I could think of, who all happened to be women. 

Now, there have been times where I’ve had to apply this same idea to people who do seem different than me. We all define ourselves in some way that draws a line between us and them. But, not to sound too much like a bumper sticker on a Prius, there are so many more ways that we are similar. And focusing on those basic human parts of us, realizing we all care about our livelihood, our clients, the well being of our loved ones, and staying sane in the practice of law, can make you a more effective attorney and human being in any situation. 

Dismiss that impostor idea that has likely crept into your mind from time to time

It is a weird thing as a young lawyer when, after years of work, you find yourself sitting at a table, in the quiet of the courtroom, waiting for the Judge and clerk to walk in. You have your notes scribbled on a yellow pad. A case file open on the table. There may be a microphone waiting to put what you have to say on the record. And as you look down, seeing your court attire, pen in hand, and leather bag tucked away under the table, you realize that you are a lawyer. That thing you grew up watching on TV, seeing rush past reporters with cameras saying “no comment,” the person that is supposed to have all the answers to the impossible problems people bring you. 

It is kind of cool. 

Except when it is not.

And you don’t feel like you should really be the one pleading your client’s case. You, who got cold-called in Civ Pro and couldn’t remember a thing you read the night before. You, who are sure the dumb thing you said in Crim Pro was way dumber than all the other dumb things everyone else said. You, who still feels like that kid who thought, yeah, I want to be a lawyer. 

Just remember, all the real lawyers (not the TV ones), put in the same work you did. Took the same test you did. Play by the same rules you do. “Practice” the same profession as you. 

That license to practice law doesn’t just tell everyone else that you are an attorney. It should tell you as well. 

There will be bad days. There will be lost motions and hard things to tell clients. But that doesn’t mean you are somehow a kid playing dress up as a lawyer, even if you may feel like it at the start of your practice. You are not an impostor. 

You are not an impostor.