The characteristics of a good lawyer, or Only you can prevent misidentification of fictional characters.
The last L.A.W.S. recruiting event of 2015 wrapped last week in Atlanta (where I met some really terrific people; since we are now in the thick of fall travel season, if you too are a terrific person, I hope you’ll come meet us!). These events begin with a panel Q&A featuring four of the attending admissions deans, and then move on to a meet & greet type table event to allow one-on-one interactions with candidates. The panelists brainstorm in advance questions that we think would be productive to address, as well as incorporating questions submitted by the registered attendees. One of the questions that we perennially put in the queue is, more or less, “What are the characteristics of a good lawyer?”
Now, part of the fun of an accumulation of admissions deans is that we of course have a variety of opinions on any given question. You could view this as annoying—like, get on the same page, people!—or you could view it as affirming: Surely at least one of the answers will accord with what you were hoping to hear.
Personally, I can think of a lot of different traits that I consider valuable in a would-be lawyer, but one of my favorites is attention to detail. I thought of this the other day when I learned of the following correction in The New York Times: “A news analysis last Sunday misstated the name of a cartoon character displayed at a Moscow diner. He is Porky Pig, not Porky the Pig.” But of course; everyone knows that. (Appreciative nod to @slategist, which in Monday’s podcast alerted the world to this “staggering” mistake.)
You’re probably thinking, “Where are we going with this?”
A decade or so ago, The Husband and I had a group of friends over for dinner. They were all lawyers, because that’s just how we roll—The Husband is a lawyer, too. Somehow or other, the subject of the ursine creature responsible for discouraging irresponsible fire-related behavior in our nation’s parks arose. Smokey the Bear this, Smokey the Bear that, blah blah blah. The Husband, who is a quiet fellow, eventually interjected to say, “It’s Smokey Bear, not Smokey the Bear.” Everyone else, not quiet people at all, scoffed and audibly rejected his correction in a most un-humble manner.
Soon thereafter, The Husband slipped from the table. Before too terribly long, he returned, but this time he was holding a volume of the U.S. Code (because sure, we have that at home), with a finger inserted at a key page. One by one, we all started looking at him and eventually piped down—at which point, The Husband read aloud from 18 U.S.C. § 711, the federal statute establishing the existence of Smokey Bear:
“Smokey Bear” character or name
Whoever, except as authorized under rules and regulations issued by the Secretary of Agriculture after consultation with the Association of State Foresters and the Advertising Council, knowingly and for profit manufactures, reproduces, or uses the character “Smokey Bear”, originated by the Forest Service, United States Department of Agriculture, in cooperation with the Association of State Foresters and the Advertising Council for use in public information concerning the prevention of forest fires, or any facsimile thereof, or the name “Smokey Bear” shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than six months, or both.
That’s right, kids. Potential fines and imprisonment for every single lawyer at the damn dinner party who got the name wrong without first having obtained permission from the Secretary of Agriculture. Since The Husband is an assistant U.S. attorney, I’m gonna be honest, there was an implicit threat in this announcement. (But since we’re talking about attention to detail, I will acknowledge that the “for profit” element of the statute was not actually in play.)
My point? Attention to detail is not merely the hallmark of a bad-ass lawyer when s/he’s in court; it could be key to keeping you out of court, too. And for those of you preparing your personal statements, one last proof-read before hitting “submit” might be in order.