The Mantra for Millennial Lawyers: Be Happy and Make a Difference
A lot of things have been said about our generation—enough to fill a whole legal library. We’re entitled, we’re aimless, we have no attention span, we’ll struggle financially forever, the list goes on. The one charge that truly perks my ears up however is one that to my bewilderment is consistently misconstrued in a negative manner – the charge is that more than ever, millennials are searching for meaning in their work and their lives. Not only do I refuse to consider this a inherent generational weakness or defect, but I dare say that this ongoing search for meaning is not a phenomenon of those born between a particular set of arbitrary dates.
Former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has written about the human phenomenon of seeking meaning in life, and how in order to avoid being swallowed by the vastness of the universe, we each must find our own calling, to make our own—often small—difference in a big world. He notes that the essential components in finding meaning in our chosen profession are twofold: first, we should do something that makes us happy, and second, we must do something that is needed by others. When we do the thing that not only we want done in fact needs to be done, odds are we will lead happier, more fulfilled lives. Looking back on my three years of law school and ahead to what I hope will be many, fulfilling years of practice, these are words to live by.
To those graduating, think back to who you were when you came to law school; 2Ls, who you were before firm recruitment; 1Ls, who you were before you ever spoke to another law student. What brought you to law school and the practice of law? Now think of where you are now. Has that perspective changed? What has caused that change?
As much as we may feel we are masters of our own destinies throughout law school, I have rapidly come to the conclusion that we have less control than we may believe. As I wrote earlier this year, law students are a conservative bunch and will often travel the path of least resistance. That path led many of us to high-paying corporate jobs and career paths elsewhere that, for some, may not necessarily line up with the dream careers we envisioned as bright-eyed baby law students on the first day of Orientation. That path was likely laid out before us by well-meaning career services offices who assumed that since this path was most common, it would logically be the route we all wanted to take.
Some students were destined for that career path and will develop ideal careers for themselves. For many, this is not the path meant for them, but the will take it anyways, either to pay off staggering levels of debt, pacify overwhelming uncertainty, or for a slew of other reasons. No matter what path a student chooses to take, common sense suggests that those who enjoy what they do will keep doing it for a long time, and that the others may be on a new path, or out of practice entirely, sooner rather than later.
Additionally, ask yourselves what is needed in today’s market for legal services. According to the Ontario Civil Legal Needs Project, only 15% of legal needs in Ontario are being served by lawyers. This by no means suggests that the other 85% don’t want a legal professional to help with their issues. Realistically many people in that 85% can’t afford legal representation or don’t know that their problems are in fact legal problems that can helpfully be solved by lawyers. That enormous 85% suggests that many more lawyers are needed, but at lower rates and in practices more geared to everyday legal issues, not just the high profile white collar practice we may value more. This is a problem that will likely be solved by new technology and new practice structures. As part of the first digital native generation to enter the profession, we can lead in changing an old profession to meet the needs of this century’s clients. As future lawyers, it’s on us to educate ourselves on who we will be serving, what they need, and how we can serve those needs to the best of our abilities. Not only will doing this help our friends and neighbours in need of legal services, it will also help us develop meaningful careers.
Each of us has different values and a different path to follow but the important thing to remember—cliché as it sounds—is that we each have an individual role to play, as lawyers and as people, to make the world a slightly better place. Whether this is recovering damages for an individual who has been injured, defending an innocent accused, preventing a refugee from deportation and further hardship, teaching the next generation of lawyers, or yes, even negotiating a merger between two large corporations, each of us has a role to play in making an impact on the lives of our clients. Choosing the right sort of client, i.e. the right practice area, for you as well as for society, is essential to ensure that you are doing something you want that needs to be done. Since this decision is both personal and societal, it’s imperative to seriously think about how you best fit in the grand scheme of things.
Ours is a profession steeped in responsibility and blessed with the opportunity to make a meaningful impact in our communities. To those graduating students on the verge of entering the profession, I hope that your law school experience has been a meaningful one and that your career brings you joy and happiness while making a positive impact on the lives of others. To those with years of school still ahead of you, take the time to realize the best way for you to maximize your happiness and contribution to the community around you.
Adam Sadinsky is graduating from Queen’s Law in 2016. He is Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief (2014-15, 2015-16) of Juris Diction and Vice-Chair of the Canadian Bar Association’s National Law Students Forum.