Masterful Advice from Master Lawyers

The Master Lawyers Section of the State Bar of Michigan is composed of nearly 20,000 Michigan lawyers who have 30 or more years of practice experience. Its membership was surveyed in March of this year to help the Section’s Council set future priorities.

The survey also asked Section members, as experienced lawyers, what words of wisdom they would share with a new lawyer. More than 650 respondents offered their thoughts, which ranged from the specific (“Shine your shoes and always be early.”) to the general (“Relax. You will make mistakes. They’re not fatal.”).

Here are some pieces of advice of particular application to law students and new grads:

Legal analysis:

“Identify the question first and then find the answer.”

“Master the facts, for out of the facts arises the law.”

Career development:

“Get to know five key people who would be good mentors and regularly stay in touch with them to hear their wisdom.”

“If possible, associate with a large law firm for at least two years to gain wide experience; then relocate to a smaller firm (or solo practice) to excel at your specialty.”

“Find a practice area and group that you enjoy. Don’t subordinate personal fulfillment to chasing dollars or partnership.”

Professional relationships:

“Join groups, special interest bar associations, or other avenues to meet other lawyers. Keep an open mind toward areas of law you are not familiar with.”

“Join young lawyers groups to meet others your own age--they will follow you throughout your career.”

“Networking and being active in bar activities are as important to your practice as staying current in your practice areas.”

Professional responsibility:

“Learning should not stop after the bar exam. Maintain a spirit of learning and focus more on listening than speaking.”

“Research all legal matters thoroughly—and perhaps discuss with other practicing attorneys—prior to rendering advice or preparing legal documentation of any kind.”

“Don’t be afraid to say ‘I don’t know’ to a client or judicial officer. Follow up with ‘I will find out’.”

“It is a profession, not a business. The client’s needs do not supersede the obligation to ethical standards and professional responsibility.”

And my personal favorite:

“I hope you paid attention in Contracts, because it all comes down to whether there was a meeting of the minds.”

otto_stockmeyerBlog author Otto Stockmeyer is a Distinguished Professor Emeritus at WMU-Cooley Law School, where he taught Contracts to generations of law students, including many children of former students. He is a member of the Master Lawyers Section Council. He wishes to thank newsletter editor Roberta Gubbins for compiling the Section’s survey responses into a booklet, “Words of Wisdom: Master Lawyers Speak Words of Wisdom,” from which these entries were selected.