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f/k/a archives . . . real opinions & real haiku

November 1, 2008

saturday morning career tips for lawyers

Filed under: Haiga or Haibun,lawyer news or ethics — David Giacalone @ 9:40 am

Less than thrilled with your legal career? Two new online pieces offer suggestions for gaining relief: 1) D.C. Bar President Robert J. Spagnoletti gives us “Love the One You’re With” (Washington Lawyer, Nov. 2008) with ideas for useful attitude adjustments, and 2) Above the Law‘s associate editor Kashmir Hill presents their latest in a series of posts on job options for those with law degrees, “Career Alternatives for Attorneys: Writer/Author” (October 31, 2008).

litigation bags –
the associate’s
half-closed eyes

.. by dagosan

.. D.C. Bar President Robert Spagnoletti has noticed that “many lawyers and professional staff today seem to have different expectations about work than our parents and grandparents.”  Instead of staying in a job for decades, so long as it provided good pay, a decent pension, and the possibility of advancement, many in today’s workforce:

“move from job to job looking for the employment equivalent of a soul mate, and they become frustrated unless they receive constant praise and instantaneous rewards.”

More to the point:

“Many of us feel that unless we are completely happy every day with every aspect of our job, and that everyone notices what we do, we somehow are failing in our career—or that our career is failing us.”

After exploring why such attitudes exist, Spagnoletti notes that there are a lot of lawyers who do get satisfaction and even joy from their jobs, and that “Interestingly, those of us who love our careers are doing the same jobs as those who are feeling unfulfilled.”  Why the difference?  Spagnoletti [such a nice Italian name] says:

“I suggest that much of the difference has to do with how we approach our work and what we expect in return. Sound familiar? Every job, like every relationship, offers great opportunities and demands great effort. Lawyers who enjoy their careers can somehow focus on the positive aspects of their jobs—and there are almost always positive aspects.”

. . . ” In other words, the most successful lawyers are usually those who are able to find some joy in what they do. They are not necessarily smarter or more talented than the rest of us, they have no theme song that plays constantly in their head to keep them sane, and they don’t have a deal with the devil. Their only secret is that they no longer expect to be on Oprah.”

I like Spagnoletti’s “looking for a soulmate” metaphor better than his mostly-inapt “being on Oprah” theme (how many of us really need to be famous, at least for a day, to have career satisfaction?). For decades, I’ve remarked that we Baby Boomers somehow got the notion that a job is supposed to be totally fulfilling — interesting, meaningful, and hopefully lucrative.  Since, given the jobs available to inhabitants of planet Earth, only a tiny percentage of us will ever achieve that goal, we set ourselves — and now our even-more self-absorbed children — up for great career angst and agita.

Spagnoletti is surely correct that a good job, like a good relationship, takes “real work” and can’t be always stimulating and fun.  His final “practical advice” is:

if you can’t be in the job you love, love the job you’re in.”

That will usually be good advice — we need patience and reasonable expectations in order to find satisfaction in any job. However, jobs are also like relationships in that some are toxic or simply far too incompatible and stressful to be worth enduring for long. If you’re in one of those, and aren’t simply the victim of untenable expectations, looking for options makes a lot of sense.   Of course, while looking for your next career move, a good attitude (a willingness to do quality work and taking it a day at a time) will go a long way toward keeping you sane.

Our alter ego Prof. Yabut continues to a believe that “only a silly a$$ doesn’t self-assess.” Throughout our schooling and career, we each need to discover and understand our personal values, passions, and work rhythms. That self-assessment takes a commitment of time and a promise of honesty.   (See our post “the road to ‘L’ is paved with inattention” for discussion and links to self-assessment tools).  Of course, honest self-assessment before entering law school, or prior to graduation, may be the best way to avoid being a dissatisfied member of the legal profession. (see Yabut’s “1L of a decision“)

clear and cold
the snap
of her attorney’s briefcase

… by Ed Markowski

If your skills, propensities or dreams make you want to put that law degree to work (or aside) as an author, check out “Career Alternatives for Attorneys: Writer/Author” (Above the Law, by Kashmir Hill October 31, 2008).  Ms. Hill took her own experience and perspectives from within what she calls “the law-journo bubble” to Thursday’s panel discussion at the New York City Bar Association: Non-Fiction: True Crime Stories & the Truth about Being a Lawyer-Writer. The panel members included Thomas Adcock, who has written seven books (including Dark Maze, which received an Edgar award), and Dennis Hawkins and Rosemarie Yu have, who have recently had their work published in the non-fiction anthology Brooklyn Noir 3.

Each panel member offered advice for lawyers who would like to become a lawyer-writer, and the ATL posting summarizes their tips on Law and Literature, How do you get started?, How do you get published?, and Copyright Law.

.. Ms. Hill suggests John Gardner’s “On Becoming a Novelist” (1999)

Kashmir also relates the story of Ben Fountain, who left the BigLaw firm of Akin Gump to write full-time, and whose lawyer wife was his personal patron for the 18 years it took to win the prestigious Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award award for his book of short stories, “Brief Encounters with Che Guevara” (2007). She’s right that having a patron (i.e., an alternative family breadwinner) helps a lot when seeking to spread your writing wings outside the legal profession. But, with so many legal jobs in jeopardy these days, Kashmir advises:

“If you have a patron, or if you have lots of creativity, or if you just love spinning tales, perhaps you should think about trying your hand at the writing craft.”

Her final advice is to write every day, “And writing legal memos does not count.”

You don’t have to do much to convince the f/k/a Gang that there is a natural fit between lawyers and literature (or the subset lawyers and haiku). As ex-prosecutor and author Dennis Hawkins told the NYCBA panel, both lawyers and authors know that “the right word, and the right sentence matter” — and many of us greatly enjoy the feeling that comes from finding that word.  [See, e.g., our discussion of The Legal Studies Forum. And see, Prof. James R. Elkins course materials on “Lawyers and Literature” (Univ. of West Virginia, College of Law)]

. . . by the way: Your humble Editor is neither too humble nor too proud to accept a patron, should anyone out there want to help shelter me while I figure out how to make a living as an author.

A Haibun by Andrew Riutta

– Andrew Riutta

In two days she turns just twenty-one. Twenty-one. So young. So pale. I tell her she should stay away from the bars. I tell her she should go out west and save the whales, or a redwood-or the endangered laughter of working-class people who go out on porches at dusk to hum the same hymns over and over in their heads that their grand- parents did. She tells me that saving herself from her father is hard enough.

peaceful autumn-
a window display
of hunter’s orange

andrew riutta

.. Sometimes, you’ve got to endure a few bites and some itching, to achieve your romantic or professional goals:

you and me
and a million mosquitos —
calamine sunset

.. haiga: poem and photo by David Giacalone, orig. pub. 60th WHA Haiga Contest (Oct. 2008) —

p.s. The new November 2008 issue of the DC Bar magazine Washington Lawyer also has two topical articles of interest: The cover story “Oil: the never-ending crisis,” in which Joan Indiana Rigdon traces the country’s growing dependency on foreign oil, its economic impact, and how government is once again scrambling for solutions.

And “Mean Streets,” in which Kathryn Alfisi examines the crackdown on panhandling and food sharing as  “an increasing number of U.S. cities employs a hard-line approach to combating homelessness, [and] the phrase “public space” seems to take on a different meaning.”

Finally, the Autumn/Winter 2008 edition of Moonset Literary Newspaper (Edition 4/No. 2) arrived two days ago.  Here are one haiku and one senryu from the new Moonset, by our Honored Guest Poet (and much-used Issa translator) David G. Lanoue:

our escort
through the ruined garden

almost a nudist
his newspaper

… by David G. LanoueMoonset Literary Newspaper (Autumn Winter 2008, Edition 4/ No. 2)

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