"Drop the illusions of grandeur." Said the senior partner as he looked at me earnestly. We were sitting in his office in the Manhattan law firm I was leaving–permanently–in less than a week. I had arranged to meet with various partners to get their advice on what to do next (because the corporate law firm thing just didn't work out for me). And that was the advice he gave me.
For years I thought it was the sagest advice ever. It was definitely exactly what I needed at that time. I was fresh out of law school, which I had chosen to go to because I (like so many young idealists) wanted to save the world. And I had just been smacked by the cold hand of reality, i.e., of life working as a lawyer in a Big Law firm. Having little idea of what to do next, or where to find my place in the legal profession, that partner was telling me to focus, be practical, and find a way to make a living without expecting too much.
Fast forward nearly 15 years, and I landed as a solo practitioner focusing on appeals, substantive motions, and oral arguments (both for my own clients and in collaboration with other lawyers). I'm competitive by nature and I adore a challenge. So I loved the challenge of making a sustainable practice doing only what I love best: creating arguments and persuading judges to accept them. But as any competitor knows, a challenge is only fun until it isn't a challenge anymore.
There is a chance of losing focus and becoming bored in any job where you do the same thing day-in-and-day-out. It's certainly true in my work, which consists of following the same process for researching, writing, and appearing for oral argument every single time. And I have a particular knack for being easily bored (I once self-diagnosed myself with CBS–Chronic Boredom Syndrome).
So when I came across a story earlier this year–about a solo practitioner who won an appeal before the U.S. Supreme Court–a spark of interest lit up my mind. I needed a new goal: to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court within the next ten years (and to win, of course).
As with any new goal, I set about getting started: this Spring, in a lovely and inspiring ceremony, I was sworn in to the Bar of the U.S. Supreme Court. It was an invigorating experience that reminded me of the intellectual grandeur of our profession. And of how idealistic it is to believe in the rule of law (without which none of us lawyers would have a job).
But I know enough about this profession to know that the goal I set for myself will not be an easy feat. It requires savvy issue spotting, careful curating of an argument through the lower courts, and tons and tons of practice (both writing and orally arguing). Being admitted to the USSC Bar is only the first baby step. But I love a challenge...and I love the vigorous energy that such a challenging goal brings up in me.
I never forgot that advice from the senior partner, though. When I was recently telling a friend about my new goal, I said–a bit sheepishly–that I know it's probably an illusion of grandeur to think I will argue one day in the U.S. Supreme Court. His response–also sage–was that illusions of grandeur are necessary to make anything great happen.
And that is exactly what I needed to hear.
Want to work together on a great case? Give me a shout and tell me what you are working on. Together we can make a great winning argument.