Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Wednesday Wisdom: Fourth-Generation Lawyer


Risk more than others think is safe.  Dream more than others think is practical.  Howard Schultz  

Fourteen months ago, I mentioned my daughter Sara in a Wednesday Wisdom post entitled "The Ability to Change Directions."  

Here's a recap and an update on that article.

* * * *

Fourteen years after graduating from college, Sara decided to chart a new path for herself. She enjoyed an active life in her community and a solid, stable job as a troubleshooter and customer service rep for a software company. She had completed a master's degree in Library Science, but she still felt a yearning to do more.

From somewhere inside her, she decided to explore the idea of going back to school - this time tackling the rigors of law school. It may have been in her blood or her genes. Her great-grandfather, Henry Ware Hobbs, Sr. was an attorney, as was her grandfather, Henry Ware Hobbs, Jr, her great uncle, Kenneth I. Franks, and I, her father.

When she asked me about the idea, I told her to go for it ONLY if she were prepared to go all in. With a glut of law schools and a vast oversupply of lawyers in a sagging economy, the value of a law degree has become the new equivalent of a liberal arts degree - a dime a dozen. Don't do it, I said, unless you're willing to work harder than you've ever worked before and you're convinced you can qualify for the law review and finish in the top part of your class in a quality law school. Anything else would be a waste of time and money.

Sara took the LSAT and did remarkably well, scoring in the top 98th percentile. All of a sudden, she became a hot commodity in the world of law school recruiters. Those test scores, her mature and well-seasoned outlook on life, and her other strong qualifications led to $1.25 million worth of lucrative scholarship offers from 16 highly-regarded law schools. She eventually accepted admission at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill.

Law school was three long challenging years, but Sara stuck with it. She demonstrated the capacity to do more work than ever before, and the tenacity to finish the job she had set her mind to. As of last week, Sara has now become a fourth-generation lawyer, graduating with honors and a member of the law review. She's moved back to Greensboro to study for the bar exam and prepare for the next chapter of her life.

I spoke with Sara recently about her decision to travel a different road. What were her primary fears as she considered going to law school? She said she was very worried about giving up a regular paycheck and she had doubts about her ability to compete against a lot of other very smart people.  

But her biggest concern was whether after law school and as a lawyer she could live a happy life. She knew many lawyers who hated their work and regretted their decision to pursue a legal career. Was it possible in today's world, she wondered, to be a happy lawyer?

"How did you resolve that doubt?" I asked. "Because obviously if you didn't, you wouldn't have gone to law school."

"I looked at the example of my grandfather and my father," she answered. "Granddaddy kept work in its place. He maintained regular hours and never brought work home with him.  He took time for a short nap in the middle of the day."  

"He also made time to foster and nourish relationships. He had many friends of all ages and walks of life, and they knew his home was always open for them to drop by and visit and share stories. He was a consummate storyteller and story-listener. When he died, at least two dozen people told us they considered him their closest friend."

She continued: "In addition, Granddaddy was a master of encouraging others, including his grandchildren, to push themselves. When I was 12, I mentioned wanting to read War and Peace, the biggest book I knew. He gave me the nudge I needed to tackle such a humongous project for someone my age. Then he followed up, asking about my progress and my thoughts on the book. He showed me that a person could have a full and well-rounded life as a lawyer."

She told me that I too was good at keeping family, church, and community as my primary life focus. But she said I had taught her another invaluable lesson. "You've shown by your example that a law degree is like a Swiss army knife.   It's an extremely flexible tool, offering a wide range of options and career paths, if you're not afraid to step out in a new direction. Sometimes that means you have to blaze a new trail, or even break the mold and start afresh."

"The course of your career has been varied and interesting. From judicial law clerk to large law firm; from college professor to bank trust officer; from self-employed private practitioner to instructor of lawyers and financial planners, and a national authority on legacy planning; from retirement planning expert to advisor of high-net worth clients; and now, even at the age of 67, your new direction as the developer of the Will & Trust Express model of service to middle-income families - you've done all that and more."  

"In each of these roles, you've taught me that it's okay to find things you love and then pursue them. I've learned that focusing on my own fulfillment and enjoyment in my professional life is one of the keys to being a happy lawyer."

So, as I see it, Sara faces the future as a fourth-generation lawyer filled with optimism, perspective, and tons of ideas on how to use her degree and training to make a difference in the world and in her own life. She has taken the lessons of yesterday, combined them with a strong skill-set for today, and opened a bright tomorrow for herself. With admitted bias and pride as her father, I think she's going to do quite well representing the profession and a noble family tradition.  

Here's to you, Sara. Happy Graduation, and Happy Life as a Lawyer!

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