When did you know you wanted to be a lawyer?
From birth (and nearly every day after), my mother chanted to me the classic Jewish mother’s mantra: “you must become a doctor or a lawyer…no one can ever take that away from you”. I now realize that while her professional education “public address” message was of course about her absolute insistence on financial independence for me, it was even more an expression of wish for me to have the personal pride and self-esteem of a professional career. She believed those things only came from work whose tool was an educated mind. I really never questioned my Mom’s “prime directive” for me – (it would have been useless – she was just a bit relentless)!
And so it really was not until I was practicing for a few years that I came to understand that I got very lucky. I am a trusts and estates lawyer – helping families protect the legacies they have built and the people they love. A great feeling.
What were you expecting when you started to practice?
No one in my family or my parents’ circle of friends was a lawyer – I really had no idea of what it would look like day-to-day. I remember being unnerved by the rough and tumble of the adversarial process. But I found my niche and it’s been tremendous. I get to mentally visit the businesses and lives of each of my clients, learning as I go. My recommendation to any young person considering the law is to explore the possibility of working in a law office – see how it feels. But remember also that being a lawyer does not necessarily mean a career of life-in-a-law-firm. I have many colleagues who used their legal background to follow a whole different path. Each believes, though, that their law school credential allowed them to create that alternate career path.
You seem very inspired by being a lawyer now. What did you discover?
What I didn’t know when I started was how broad your exposure can be to everything. And because I am curious by nature, I now have a certain body of knowledge that I’ve acquired from my clients and their businesses over years. I get to visit the life of every client I work with and through that I learn about their businesses, from marketing to finance to the struggles of an entrepreneur. That’s been unbelievably luxurious to me and, I believe, adds insights and knowledge that benefit our clients.
Tell me more about what you love about it.
Different personalities come to the law for different reasons. For me it’s the people. While I do a lot of intricate estate and tax planning for clients in the estate area, I am always mindful of the personal story of every family I work with. It’s my favorite part. In the age of information, a prospective internet-informed client might call and say, “I need an irrevocable trust – do you do that?” Of course we prepare trusts, but we are not in the business of selling legal forms, we are in the profession of learning your story, asking questions, asking more questions, educating you and then proposing the best legal solutions to address your needs. I want to know your story. What is the “pain” we are trying to solve?
Obviously, this is sensitive work; people are sharing private matters – of money and family concerns. Or they have suffered a terrible loss and are in grief or feeling out of control. I am honored by their trust. I know that we will be there for the families we represent and will simply make things better.
How far into your career were you when you realized you loved it?
I very much liked the academic part of the job – solving the estate tax puzzles – right away. And I enjoyed writing. Likewise, I absolutely knew that life in the court room was not for me. But mostly I enjoyed the one-on-one communications with individuals, families and business owners.
What should someone considering a career in law be thinking about?
This is not an easy job. People do not call a lawyer because it’s a gorgeous day outside – something difficult has happened, they’re planning for something difficult, or there is an unavoidable fight to be had. And it’s not like TV. No lawyers are doing those TV jobs. It’s also contentious, so if that doesn’t suit you it won’t go well. Even in a non-adversarial practice area, there are tough issues to be addressed.
Between college and law school I would recommend spending a year, at least, working in a law firm. There are a lot of lawyers and law school is expensive. Try it out; see how the environment feels to you. And law school is expensive and the number of out-of-work lawyers is high. I think that it is important to be realistic in your expectations and then spend (or don’t spend) the money on a law school education accordingly. For many, this will mean that law school may not be the right career choice.
What are some of the most important skills you think future attorneys should be developing?
It’s important for lawyers to be good communicators – comfortable articulating ideas – both in writing and speaking.
Be curious – in all ways, about all things.
Accept the fact that not everyone is going to like you.
How did you learn to be okay with not everyone liking you?
Being willing to hear my internal voice say that that’s ok.
How does your work affect your personal life?
I find that being a lawyer is a large part of how I see myself as a person. And so it is a little too easy to put work first. Additionally, because I am also a business owner it is a constant internal struggle to “leave work at the office”. But my work has also been the source of some of the most profound personal relationships of my life – people I would never have met but for the work I am doing.
What non-work things do you do that make you better at your job?
I have a lot of varied interests and it seems that I am an incorrigible organizer. I recently formed an art group – something like a book club – but led by an amazing art history graduate student who is leading us through the richness of the New York City art offerings. You would be amazed at how the things I have learned and the people I have met in this process have become resources to my clients, but mostly, I find it to be tremendous fun and an outlet for the simple joy of being a tourist in my home town.
What books or other media have inspired your career? What’s inspiring you now?
I love podcasts, like The Moth and some of the NPR podcasts. And I am an audio book junkie! Right now I am listening to the classics and it’s a fabulous thing. I was listening to A Tale of Two Cities and I couldn’t get out of the car. I also recently listened to David Gergen’s Eyewitness to Power. Fascinating book. And Gergen happens to have a great voice.
What are you optimistic about?
I have a niece and a nephew who love their careers. One is a teacher and the other is an engineer. They both love the fact that their brains are tired at the end of each day… that they are being challenged by their life’s work. I know that a lot of people have negative things to say about millennials, but I know a few who want to be more, learn more, give more, and be all in. To my mind, it just does not get better than that.
This interview was originally published on Deare2.