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Here’s to Practicing Law Like a Beginner

by Jay Reeves |

There is something to be said for practicing law like a beginner, regardless of how long you have actually been doing it.

Unfortunately, some of us take a different path.

We start out fresh and wide-eyed but grow stale and closed-minded. Our sense of wonder is replaced by woe, our grand dreams become a daily grind. Success only brings more stress.

“There are but two pleasures in the law,” said the jaded JD with whom I shared office space when I started out. “Getting paid and getting your case continued.”

This was long ago, back when Bear Bryant was still coaching football, and Windows were things you looked out of, and the ink was barely dry on my law license. What did I know? 

Actually, I knew a few things he didn’t – or, more likely, things he once knew but had misplaced or forgotten over the years.

Things like: marvels are not confined to Stan Lee’s cinematic universe. They abound right here, right now – in your Law Life and mine – although it might take a Beginner’s Mind to see them.

For me, a recent speaking engagement in Southern Pines did the trick.


Along Came COVID

In early 2020, I was invited to give a one-hour ethics CLE seminar to the Moore County Bar. Plans were made, a presentation was prepared. Then the pandemic struck. The event was postponed – a week … a month … a year. And then, in the summer of 2021, I got a call from Linda, my kind and patient host.

“Great news, Jay,” she said from Southern Pines. “We’re finally meeting in person again. Can you come speak in September?”

“I’ll be there.”

As I blew the dust off my manuscript, I realized that although I have been giving talks since the Age of Pac-Man, I hadn’t faced a group of living, breathing, heckling humans in 18 months. Sure, I’d done a ton of video conferences and webinars, but meeting on Zoom is different than actually being in the room.

To say I felt rusty about performing live was an understatement. The truth was, I felt like a beginner.


The Beginner’s Mind

Even more surprising: I liked the feeling. I liked the tingle of anticipation, the adrenaline kicking in, the impulse to scrap my moldy script in favor of some bright new stories.

After all, if a pandemic doesn’t inspire us to reboot and rethink our Law Lives, nothing will. 

And so when the bell rang on CLE night in Southern Pines, I stood in the banquet room of the sumptuous Sly Fox Restaurant and told a bevy of barristers how excited I was to be there.

Because it was true.

Not just excited, but enthused. Energized. It was like the first day of school.

And though I cannot claim to have enlightened anyone in the audience that night, I was pleased when my Moore County friends asked me to stay for dinner to continue talking about how to create an awesome Law Life.


Practicing Law Like a Child

“The Beginner’s Mind opens the door to all possibilities,” goes a Zen saying.

It’s good advice. Being a beginner is wonderful. Just watch little children at play. The whole universe is a delight. Everything is new and amazing.

And yet the longer we practice law, the greater the risk of losing our capacity to be astonished. We grow tired, bored or cynical. We stop being curious. We are too busy looking for the next accomplishment to see the world in a grain of sand, or heaven in a wildflower.

Small wonder there’s such burnout, illness and discontent in our ranks. Too many of us have lost our Beginner’s Minds. But here’s good news: the solution is to return to where we started, and know that place for the first time.


About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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