This is an interesting concept that I’ve bumped up against a few times in the past week or so. In making my decision, I have been encouraged to do various things in order to make the best of my situation because I “don’t owe them anything.” Whether that means accepting Job A just so I didn’t lose that opportunity if Job B didn’t come through, discussing the pros and cons of the current setup at my current job, or putting in my two weeks and getting out of my current job as quickly as possible.
It’s interesting to me because I really feel like I owe others a lot. I owe everyone in the world the opportunity to interact with my best self. I owe everyone good experiences with me and the ability to have fond memories of me.
What some people, lawyers and non-lawyers alike, don’t always realize is how important your reputation is in the legal field. There are lawyers who show up and act like they own the place, and it might get them somewhere, but it’s not going to get them any favors. Now that I’ve been on the inside of a judge’s chambers, close to her assistant, and in the seat of the law clerk, I know how important a good reputation is. If a judicial aide doesn’t like you, the chances of you getting an adjournment are governed only by the other party’s willingness to stipulate. And if you’ve pissed off opposing counsel, you are going to need to come up with another plan to attend whatever function you’re double-booked for. If you are late filing your response and you have treated the clerks with respect, they may be willing to walk it right over to the judge’s chambers to ensure that it gets there in time for him to read it before your hearing. But if you’ve walked in and thrown papers at them and not recognized their humanity, your response is probably just going to get added to the pile along with everyone else’s.
And I have always known which side of these scenarios I wanted to be on. I strive to have good relationships with everyone, because you never know when that’s going to come out in your favor. Those relationships have gotten me the two legal jobs that I’ve had so far. I volunteered in the Legal Assistance Center in the county where I first worked, so when I applied to be a law clerk, the judge already knew who I was. According to the judge’s assistant, that was probably what caused her to pick me over another candidate that she was debating over. If I had gone into that volunteer experience with the idea that it was all about me and that I didn’t owe them anything, I probably wouldn’t have been perceived with the respect that I deserved.
Later, after I had been a law clerk for over a year, I applied for another clerkship at the urging of a colleague. Little did I know that the hiring judge was friends with one of the local attorneys who I saw on an almost daily basis. My belief that I owed that attorney respect and positivity earned me a good recommendation when my name came up. Similarly, my constant hard work and good attitude toward my boss earned me a good recommendation from her when they were informally chatting about the possibility of me moving to a different county.
Similarly, when I think about leaving this job to pursue the world of legal practice, I want people to have positive associations with me. I will be a brand new lawyer who probably doesn’t even realize how much she doesn’t know. I am going to need the help of everyone willing to give it to me. The last thing I need is to have a case against an attorney from the firm where I turned down the offer and to have them out for my blood. I also don’t need to walk into the courthouse where I currently work and have clerks unhappy to see me because I left them high and dry when they needed me.
In the beginning of my career, sometimes I feel like all I have is my personality. I don’t even really have a reputation except with the people who have met me before. My knowledge is minimal; sure, I passed law school and the bar exam, but I haven’t used a lot of that information since. Not to mention that practice will be MUCH more complicated than the fact patterns we’re given in school or the facts as they’re laid out in the cases that have gone before.
So I do not agree with the idea that I don’t owe “them” anything. I owe everything to everyone. The minute I stop feeling that way, the minute I become far less successful. I don’t think I’d have gotten two job offers last week if I believed that I was entitled to anything. These firms chose me because I have something to offer, not something to take. And I intend to give it.