Yeargan & Kert - August 2019


AUGUST 2019 404-467-1747


With a whole new class of law students beginning their studies this month, I was recently asked what advice I’d give to this new generation of lawyers. At first, I was tempted to yell, “Run! Don’t do it!” — as a joke, of course. But, the more I thought back on my experience in law school, the more I had to say. Having seen what it takes to make it as an attorney, I know the classroom leaves out many important parts of the job. Most of all, law school leaves out the value of empathy. Before I dive into my reasoning on this, here’s a quick disclaimer. My first year at the Mercer University School of Law began back in 2000. The St. Louis Rams had won the Superbowl, the first season of “Survivor” had just wrapped up, and a little-known search engine called Google had just started selling ad space. Frankly, it was a different world, and I’m sure there have been some changes to Mercer’s curriculum since those days. Still, my girlfriend is currently working through her last year of law school, and she has frequently complained about how little her coursework reflects the actual work of being a lawyer. So, my first piece of advice to new law students is to never forget that being an attorney is a people-centric business. No matter what branch of law you pursue, people and their families will depend on you. Your problems won’t be abstract, logic questions to puzzle out in the comfort of your dorm room: they’ll be life-defining arguments that your clients will want updates on every step of the way. Yet, so many lawyers drag their feet to return phone calls from people they are working to defend. These are folks whose futures are at stake, so the least an attorney can do is get back to them on the same day. But to be fair, law schools don’t teach customer service or to even put yourself in the client’s shoes. Instead, courses focus on careful logic and strategic rhetoric. These are the nuts and bolts of practicing law, but they won’t make you a great lawyer on their own. Keep sight of the human side of the practice, and you’ll find life after passing the bar much easier.

Another bit of advice for first-years is don’t be a know-it-all. Now that you’ve started law school, you’ll have friends and family coming out of the woodwork for legal advice. Take it from me: People appreciate it far more when you admit you don’t know something than when you attempt some half-baked answer. Either promise them you’ll do some research on the matter and get back to them, or point them to a professional who can help. The competitive academics of law school can make saying the words “I don’t know” feel like an awful confession. But, when you’re honest with your answers, you put the people who are coming to you for help first. And remember, just because you’re studying law doesn’t mean you have to be a lawyer. A Juris Doctor is not the same as an MD — the skills you learn are far more applicable to life than what they teach at medical school. One of the great joys of my life was the way law school taught me to rethink the way I approach challenges. In a very real way, it opened up how I thought about the world. For that reason, I’d recommend law school to anyone willing to put in the work. So, I’ll close by saying that law school is incredibly tough, and there will be moments you question what you’re doing there. But, believe me; it’s more than worth it. If I had to do it all over again, I would — and I wouldn’t mind being able to use Google this time around.

Best of luck,

–Jim Yeargan



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