‘Don’t base being a lawyer off what you see on TV’

By Emma Ryan|18 November 2019

A panel of legal professionals has issued an important warning to law students: if you want to be a lawyer, don’t think it’s going to be like what you see on the big screen.

At this year’s Relativity Fest, hosted in Chicago, Illinois, David Horrigan, discovery counsel and legal education director at Relativity; Jessica Nolan, senior vice-president and general counsel at PLZ Aeroscience; and Ari Kaplan, principal at Ari Kaplan Advisors, spoke about the value of legal education and how this has changed over the years.

A key trend identified in the FTI-Relativity General Counsel Survey, which Mr Kaplan zoomed in on, is that the make-up of lawyers is changing, regardless of whether you operate in a law firm or in-house.

“I spoke to these people about what should students be thinking about? And there were a couple of references to this and it surrounded understanding the nature of legal services now,” Mr Kaplan said.

“I have a 14-year-old whose mother is an extraordinary lawyer and so she’s gone to work with my wife and wants to be a lawyer, and my wife’s like, ‘I don’t want her to be a lawyer. I don’t even know what being a lawyer will be when she’s an adult’. She can’t imagine what that will look like.

“Many lawyers don’t like their jobs and want to get out so they should not base being a lawyer on what they see on TV shows or in movies. Yet, there were other people who talked about options. So, [my advice to law students is to] think about what you really want to do, see if you want to do that and develop some kind of expertise.

“There were other points about networking. Some said, ‘I'm so focused on the academics but never understood the importance of building relationships and networks early on’. That fascinates me.”

Mr Horrigan also had some advice to law students, circling in on the need to differentiate oneself in the current legal climate.

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“You’ve probably heard the expression but I’d say, ‘Find a job you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life’,” he added.

“Some of the most practical advice that the respondents gave was ‘Try something interesting’ and you’re probably thinking ‘Duh’, but it really rings true. One of the other respondents said, ‘Don't impress me with how smart you are, I hired you because you’re so smart’.”

Mr Horrigan also advised law students to think about who they’re servicing, and whether what they want or require from their legal adviser has changed.

“Some respondents said they have people saying: ‘don’t call me a client, call me a customer’,” he said.

“We often slip into calling our customers our clients. But respondents want to be treated like a customer so think about that.”

During the same session, Mr Horrigan, Mr Kaplan and Ms Nolan also spoke about how GCs are no longer considered the department of no.

‘Don’t base being a lawyer off what you see on TV’
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