By Keith Lee, ABA Publishing, Chicago, 229 pages, $44.95 hardcover and $24.95 paperback
If you’re in the process of deciding whether practicing law is for you, “The Marble and the Sculptor” by Keith Lee is a good place to start. This recently published book was written for new law graduates and those considering attending law school and is designed to aid them in deciding whether a career in law is for them, and if so, how to go about making the most of their chosen field by becoming the best lawyer that they can be.
The book begins with an examination of the reasons to attend law school—and the reasons not to. Lee explains that the practice of law is anything but glamorous and given the current legal job market, is rarely a guarantee of lifelong wealth. Instead, the practice of law can be a grueling ordeal, full of tedium and hard work.
Even so, according to Lee, it can be a rewarding career: “(I)f you can manage the stress, embrace the work, and be willing to put others ahead of yourself, you can find great success as a lawyer. If this sounds appealing, and you are prepared to devote yourself to a profession, then you should go to law school.”
Next, Lee tackles the nuts and bolts of making it through law school, covering the importance of establishing a good reputation and creating a long-term professional network with your classmates. He also discusses the classes you should consider taking and techniques for managing your time and outside obligations. Finally, he finishes this section with advice about preparing for, and taking, the bar exam.
The remainder of the book is devoted to the fundamental skills required to be a good lawyer, including professional development and client service. His advice regarding client service is particularly astute. Lee explains that “quality of work matters … But nearly as important is the perception of that service from the client’s perspective … responsive, visible, and frequent interaction with a client gives rise to a developing confidence in a lawyer.”
Overall, Lee offers sound advice and tangible, actionable steps for aspiring lawyers, law students, and newfound lawyers to take in order to achieve their goals.
That said, my biggest criticism of this book is Lee’s repeated claim that being a good lawyer supersedes all else in life. This concept pops up repeatedly throughout the book and Lee discusses it as if it were an irrefutable, accepted truth. For example he states that: “Becoming a successful lawyer…has to become the overriding goal and purpose of your life. This will cause imbalance …. The separation between your personal life and your professional life will start to thin, to the point that it becomes illusory …. Being a good lawyer is not a part-time job.”
Not all lawyers would agree with his assertion, and in this case, it’s particularly difficult to give it full credence since it comes from an attorney who has only been admitted to practice law for less than three years. Arguably, it takes a lifetime of practicing law, or at least more than three years experience, to have a complete understanding of what it means to be a “successful” lawyer and how to best accomplish this goal.
Even so, it’s an opinion worth pondering, so it’s inclusion in the book is not in and of itself problematic. Instead, it’s the constant refrain and the suggestion that it is an irrefutable truth that is questionable.
Despite that one criticism, this is a very useful handbook for lawyers-to-be and new law graduates. It’s chock full of useful advice, including one of the most useful concepts that every young lawyer needs to understand: that you alone are in charge of your destiny. Or, as Lee states: “You can either be a passive observer, letting the world direct the course of your life, or you can be a force of nature—imposing your will on the world and changing it to what you want to be. Choose the latter.”
Nicole Black is director of business development at MyCase. She is an attorney in Rochester, N.Y., and author of “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” and coauthor of “Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier” and “Criminal Law in New York.” She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.