This is advice that I'm not sure I'm qualified to give; or, perhaps, it's that any such advice should be accepted for what it is, and with a grain of salt. My own path to the law and my approach to the practice of law will necessarily be different, and specific to myself and my time. I was exposed to the barrister tradition of the law at a relatively young and impressionable age and that too in a moment of great stress for myself and my family.
To paraphrase Dershowitz, lawyers tend to hero-worship and advice should be suspect given that the one offering it often wants the recipient to follow in his or her own footsteps. But the profession seems as popular as ever. Perhaps lawyer-aspirants are still swayed by media or film portrayals of lawyers as warriors in the courtroom, striving, seeking and obtaining justice for their clients. Maybe they're swayed by the glamour of law or perceptions of law as a means to an end or an end unto itself for raking in hand over fist money.
My first thought is that all lawyer-aspirants needs to understand that there's little glamour, but unremitting hard work and you could probably make more money with less stress elsewhere).
Further, this tends to be a harsh profession, particularly to its young. I know that Millennials seem to place greater stock in mentorship than those before them. Full disclosure, according to that HBR article, I apparently fall within that cohort (I have to mind the gap; I'm either a really old Millenial, or a really young Gen X). I think mentors, "mentees", mentoring, mentorship is overrated.
“there is nothing outside of yourself that can ever enable you to get better, stronger, richer, quicker, or smarter. Everything is within. Everything exists. Seek nothing outside of yourself.”
― Miyamoto Musashi,
If you're contemplating entering this profession then I think it's imperative to know thyself. Take stock of your strengths, weaknesses, interests, passions. There are manifold paths within the practice of law, but all require certain traits, or attitudes such as suspicion of authority, critical thinking or a certain aptitudes such as the ability to read and absorb information. Are you articulate and eloquent (probably necessary traits for anyone hoping to persuade another)? Are you a good writer (everyone thinks they are, but I've found few new calls are)? Are you persistent, that is do you tend to finish what you've started and have you committed to multi-year endeavours in the past?
It is this last point that I would like to address in this post. I think it's the most important virtue to being a lawyer (at least a successful one). I've been reading Angela Duckworth Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.
Duckworth points out that talent is overrated (perhaps even distracting). The concept of talent can be dangerous; individuals give up too quickly because they think that success is requires innnate talent. It's dangerous because if we accept that talent is innate, individuals have an easy out; a perfectly wrapped and prepared tactic that allows them to safe face, and safeguard ego. The reality is that grit - that is, persistence, perseverance is the only path to lasting achievement (I know that achievement and fulfillment should not be confused but neither should be assumed that they are mutually exclusive. Indeed, it appears that they are and there is a fair degree of correlation between the two.) This is something perhaps most children of immigrants have heard from their parents. It was certainly a central thesis for my dad who repeated his cardinal virtue of persistence and downplayed his native intelligence (not obviously borne out with his multiple post-secondary and post-graduate degrees from a time when those actually meant something).
“Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins,” James Baldwin
Grit is the propensity to continue despite setbacks, and the ability to endure monotony (in other words, boredom) and breakthrough to gaining skill. Grit entails more than mere practice or robotic repetition.
Malcolm Gladwell, as is his wont, gave us the bromide of 10,000 hours, but read Anderss Ericcsson's Peak: How to Master Almost Anything instead for the true import of time spent in a craft, in a calling.
Duckworth thinks that interest, practice, purpose and finally, "hope" (to sustain during low points) is associated with success; I would connect this last virtue to the concept of Chardi Kala the Sikh concept of hope/optimism in the face of overwhelming challenge. I've seen that unconscious value or attribute result in success time and time again for my Punjabi clients. Indeed, these clients - sometimes unsophisticated - are far more successful than my professional clients (particularly engineers, who have a hard time grasping the grey, and have trouble with the ambiguous).
Duckworth finds that a grittier person is more likely to enjoy a healthy emotional life. There is an abiding satisfaction that comes from doing something valuable, valued, important for yourself and others.
British psychoanalyst and author, Adam Philipps writes about the experience of missing out on an unlived life. Do you really want to be missing out on "lives we could be leading but for some reason are not"? Do you really want to "spent a great deal of our lived lives trying to find and give the reason" that [these unlived lives] "...were not possible. And what was not possible all too easily becomes the story of our lives."? Well, the difference between living the life that was possible and making reasons for why that life was not is probably a function of your persistence, and ability to endure.
I've also been reading N. Taleb's Antifragile. He too talks of grit, albeit in different terms. Taleb praises and prefers wisdom from experience over (mere) reasoning, and knowledge from contact with reality, from feedback and skin in the game. There can be no more skin in the game than litigation. Litigation may well be the crucible that separates the charlatan or fake expert from the real expert. In sum, get comfortable being uncomfortable. The practice of law requires a lifetime of learning and most of what is worth knowing will arise from the school of hard knocks.
“He who can, does. He who cannot,teaches.” - G. Bernard Shaw