Veteran attorney William K. Thayer’s advice to new lawyers: Learn to balance opportunity with responsibility
To the newest Washington State Bar inductees, congratulations!
The path to becoming a lawyer is not an easy one. To traverse it requires courage, discipline, hard work, and sacrifice. You’ve endured years of study at no small financial and emotional cost. In the end, you faced an examination designed to fail nearly as many as manage to pass. It is unusual to find a product of this grist mill who has not lost a relationship with someone they cared about along the way, or at least their 20/20 vision, if not both. But I am here to tell you it was worth it.
Having practiced law for 35 years, I gained a high degree of appreciation for what lawyers in various types of legal employment do. They prosecute those who commit crimes, and just as emphatically defend the unfairly accused. They advise business leaders and draft contracts. They interpret tax laws and apply for patents and copyrights. They fight for civil justice, advocating for either side in disputes over negligence and wrongful death, product liability, and property boundaries. They help injured workers, disabled veterans, the homeless and indigent people who need someone on their side in financial matters and basic survival. And they sit as judges, appellate scholars, and hearing officers throughout our state and the country, making often unpopular but necessary decisions and compromises.
Will it be an interesting line of work? It certainly has been for me in my practice representing people in personal injury cases. Depending on what you do as a lawyer, the course and scope of your practice likely will cross paths with many walks of life. Representing carpenters, you learn something about the carpentry business; representing landscapers, you learn about landscaping; likewise for accountants and bookkeeping, inventors and inventing, and on and on.
Being a lawyer can be a grand profession or a base profession, depending upon what you choose to do and how you conduct yourself. But let me just suggest this: If you focus your career on an area of law that involves helping people make their lives better and if you remain honest and diligent in your practice, in the end you will feel your work has been important and, indeed, noble.
This is truly a great moment in your life. Underestimate neither what you have accomplished nor the knowledge and capabilities you now possess. Remain humble and preserve your integrity as you press forward with your career. Appreciate the professional license you have received and always respect it. With it and because of it, you can — and no doubt will — do great things for many people.