Recently, I had the opportunity to interview newly appointed Court of Appeals, Division II, Judge Bradley Maxa. The trial lawyers association, Washington State Association for Justice (formerly WSTLA) asked me to write a profile of Judge Maxa for their publication Trial News. I was to ask him about things that would be of interest to their readers, but since I was the one making the trip down to Tacoma, I figured I would also ask him about things of interest to me. So, of course, I asked him to share his advice for new lawyers. Here are my three main takeaways from our meeting.
1. Volunteering is hugely valuable to you as a person and as a lawyer — but you don’t have to volunteer as a lawyer. Judge Maxa is incredibly involved in his community, but he does work that does not require the title of “lawyer.” Young lawyers have a lot of skills beyond their legal abilities that can be donated. It’s okay to give something of yourself beyond pro bono work. Even what we define as “pro bono” might be too limited; you can do a lot of pro bono legal work outside of a clinic setting.
2. Work-life balance is important to everyone, even lawyers. I was surprised that the topic of work-life balance would come up in an interview with an appellate judge who had been a litigator for 28 years, and a male judge, to boot. This is something that I feel female lawyers discuss often, but it was refreshing to hear it valued by a litigator, a former partner at a larger law firm, a dad, and a judge. Judge Maxa said he was never a 24/7 lawyer. Sure, he put in long hours and still does, but he makes time for family, for his community, and for life outside of the office.
3. Even lawyers can love what they do. One of my biggest motivations for hanging my own shingle was knowing people who really loved their jobs. I wanted to be one of them. For me, going solo allowed me the autonomy to do what I love within the practice of law. Judge Maxa was never a solo, but he really loves the law. He loves what he does; he loved being a litigator and being a judge. He gets joy out of researching a new area of law, writing, and hearing oral arguments. When he was a partner at his previous firm, he never assigned brief writing to associates — that was the fun part he kept for himself.
Judge Maxa knows times are tough for new lawyers and that we don’t always have as much choice or control over our professional opportunities, but he believes you have to find the right fit and that it is possible to love what you do, even when what you do is practice law.
If you are interested in reading my full profile of Judge Maxa, you will find it in the December 2013 issue of Trial News.