Paul Meloan – Vested Interest

Twenty one years ago today I graduated law school and was released upon a largely unsuspecting public.  I felt fortunate to have a job and the chance to learn a craft I thought I wanted to make my life’s work.  Today I spoke with someone who was barely a year out of college and now contemplating law school, and it made me recall what I thought about law school then, and what I might think today if I were considering it again.

I went to law school to become a lawyer.  While superficially obvious, it was clear to me that among many of my classmates a significant minority had no such ambitions.   Several came to their senses and left, but many continued by virtue of being strong students, and it was simpler to keep learning until the prescribed course of study was complete.

Within the law, the only connection I felt was to trial work: harnessing the facts and the law and making my best presentation on behalf of my client in court.   I rejoiced that someone (anyone!) offered me the chance to ply my trade.  What I learned in the six years that followed, while hardly surprising, was nevertheless chilling.

Six years into what should have been a ten year apprenticeship (ugly truth of trial work: it takes about 10 years of doing it every day to master it) it was obvious that I was not destined to conquer the law.  I compliment myself daily for recognizing that fact and doing something about it.  Lesson learned: it is OK to be wrong, it is immoral to stay wrong.

From the age of 30 forward I learned my actual skills were in the area of human problem-solving, and I have focused there ever since.  Did I need a law degree to learn that? Of course not.  While I refuse to engage in 20-20 hindsight, it affects what I tell prospective students today.

The one reason to go to law school is to be a lawyer.  The bar is open to those who wish to approach and give it their best shot.  If you hear the calling, I would not dream of attempting to dissuade you from it.  If you harbor aspirations outside of admission to the bar, there is almost certainly a better path to reach them aside from parting with $100-200k of someone’s hard-earned money for another three years of formal education.

What I ultimately graduated from after three years in school and six on the job is the school of hard knocks.  Nine years of subsistence living and professional failure have given life since then a flavor that only tastes sweeter.

For all future lawyers and law students, the laws of unintended consequences remain fully in effect. John Lennon was undoubtedly right: life is what happens to you while you are making other plans.

Paul Meloan is the co-founder and co-managing member of Aegis Wealth Management, LLC, in Bethesda, Maryland USA. Before Aegis Paul was a practicing attorney as well as working in the tax practice of Ernst & Young, LLP.

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