When it’s time to hang up your — uh, well, whatever it is lawyers hang up upon retiring — you won’t want to have missed out on any of the opportunities our profession offers. Regardless of what type of practice you craft for yourself, there are a few fundamental lawyerly skills worth exercising, even if it’s just once. Below are 5 career accomplishments every lawyer should consider putting on his or her bucket list. Although new lawyers may have more time and flexibility to achieve these goals, even we older practitioners can weave these into our careers with a little resourcefulness.
1. Try a case
Remember that epic movie scene of the lawyer staring at court opinions on a computer screen? Or the hit TV series about the daily adventures of the world’s greatest patent attorney? Of course not. When non-lawyers think of lawyers they think of one thing: trials. Never mind that in reality only a small percentage of legal work involves going to trial, and even litigators settle the vast majority of their cases long before they’re in sight of the courthouse.
Besides being perhaps the most fundamental role of our profession in general, trying a case can be (and I use the term loosely) fun. Not many real-life adult jobs involve an actual head-to-head competition with a winner declared at the end. Summoning all your powers of organization and persuasion to fight for your client’s cause can be fulfilling, even if it’s not something you would want to do regularly.
Although taking on a trial alone isn’t realistic for non-litigators, you can always volunteer to second-seat a colleague, perhaps in a bench trial or at the district or municipal court level. Whether you end up experiencing the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat, you’ll definitely feel like a lawyer.
OK, so you took the advice above and lost. Well, that gives you the perfect opportunity to try bucket list item number two. In 22 years of practice I’ve never done an appeal, so this one is on my own list. Having your name as counsel on an appellate case can literally put you in the books, making your work immortal. I’m sure plenty of lawyers in your community who are handling appeals pro bono projects, or simply overworked, would be glad to have your help.
3. Switch up
If you do criminal work only, get involved in a civil case — or vice versa. I’ve been a civil litigator my whole career, and the closest I’ve come to a criminal trial was being called for jury duty and then dismissed during voir dire (lawyers don’t usually like other lawyers being on the jury). I realize that the opportunities for this kind of switch-hitting are limited, especially if you’re already engrained in your career. But if you have some flexibility, consider things like serving as a part-time prosecutor or public defender for a municipal or tribal court (if you otherwise practice on the civil side) or get involved in a pro bono civil case (if you’re usually employed as a prosecutor or criminal defender – assuming this doesn’t violate the terms of your employment, of course).
4. Serve as a judge or neutral
I’m not talking about becoming a permanent judge or full-time ADR neutral, which is a whole new career. I’m talking about things like serving as a judge or commissioner pro tem, or serving as an arbitrator in the Mandatory Arbitration system, or as a mediator for a pro bono or “low bono” program. I’ve done ADR for the past eight years, and some of the most fulfilling cases I’ve handled were pro bono mediations involving lawyer-client disputes. Go figure. Doing ADR teaches you things about how the “other side” thinks that you don’t get as an advocate. It also teaches you a great deal about human nature.
All we really have to work with in this profession is knowledge, so passing along knowledge is fundamental. There are plenty of opportunities for lawyers to teach: chair a CLE; teach a class at a university, college or law school; do a “People’s Law School” or similar project to help educate the public about law; or coach a high school, college or law school mock trial or moot court team.
Your career will fly by faster than you can imagine, so get all the lawyerly thrills out of it that you can.