Vanderbilt Law Review


Howard Lesnick

First Page



I have offers from three New York firms, and wonder if you can tell me which one is the most prestigious. A third-year student seeking my advice a year or two ago The most striking aspect of Patrick Schiltz's essay is that it directly addresses students. In word (the salutation) and deed (what follows), he speaks, not to the folks who help rule the world (judges, legislators, officials, weighty practitioners, and those rulers-once-or- twice-removed, professors), but to those who are hoping-dare they?-to ascend to some future vacancy in those positions.

Schiltz's message is in two parts: First, he tells students several important empirical truths (as he thinks they are): the sources of the extraordinary malaise that seems to be tightening its grip on our profession in recent years (Parts I-III); the realities of large-firm life (Parts IV, VI); the priorities that are driving so many lawyers to live and work in so self-defeating a manner (Part V). He then (Part VII) offers students some advice, "little picture" and "big picture." The former is full of important detail, not "little" at all, but it is the two sentences of "big picture" advice that I want to note here:

"Right now, while you are still in law school, make the commitment-not just in your head, but in your heart-that, although you are willing to work hard and you would like to make a comfortable living, you are not going to let money dominate your life to the exclusion of all else .... Make the decision now that you will be the one who defines success for you-not your classmates, not big law firms, not clients of big law firms, not the National Law Journal."

There is much to ponder respecting the accuracy of both Schiltz's diagnosis and his prescriptions, "big" and "little." I would like, however, to focus this brief comment, not on the merits of those thoughts, but on the question of how students (or young lawyers) are to get from here to there-how one who does find some significant power in the diagnosis, and some ingrained resonance with the rem- edy, might find himself or herself able to cross the existential abyss that stands in the way of taking the challenge of the advice seriously.

Tacky though it surely is to begin by quoting oneself, I will re- call here the opening lines of the coursebook in professional respon- sibility that I published some half-dozen years ago:

"As I was about to become a teacher, a wise friend said to me that, although most teachers use people to teach things, teaching is using things to teach peo- ple. I have set out in this book not to treat Professional Responsibility as the thing that I am teaching, that is, as a body of knowledge or ideas that I am transmitting or imparting to students. My intention is rather to use Professional Responsibility, both doctrinal development and theoretical cri- tiques, to evoke in students their own responses to some fundamental ques- tions about themselves as emergent lawyers, to teach students to ask them- selves: Who am I? In my work as a lawyer, what will I be doing in the world? What do I want to be doing in the world?"