Philosophical Musings of Legal Success
Transactionalism is a philosophy that supposes that everything is interrelated—you give, you receive. You trade time for money, money for food, and food for energy. Quid pro quo. Subject and object are inseparable. The theory also teaches that we are products of our experience, and each transaction leads to transformation and growth.
As a part-time follower of transactionalism, I believe that success in the legal profession is not solely dependent on one’s ability to out-strategize or outmaneuver your opponent. Rather, success comes from the ability to recognize the value of each transaction and the relationships each transaction forms. I directly relate my own personal success to the interactions and transactions I’ve been a part of. But this wasn’t always the case.
My Misguided Youth
When I was younger, I thought I would be successful as a lawyer because everything is a debate, and I am notoriously stubborn. I often did what I wanted because I was determined to set the rules. In kindergarten, when the teacher told me to color the picture red, I used green. “You can’t be the captain of the debate team and a cheerleader”—says who? “Eighteen credit hours and three jobs is unsustainable,” they said. Hold my beer. No one could tell me who to be or how to act. The foreseeable but unfortunate consequence of this attitude was to push people away. I wasn’t very popular. But I didn’t care. I didn’t need them to be successful. Or so I thought. Life gets harder and more complicated the longer you live.
It was during law school that I first learned the value of relationships. I struggled. I had no clue what an “outline” was or how to study for a law school exam. My BA in international studies/philosophy hadn’t prepared me for the unique structure of law school. I mean, as a philosophy major, I was thrilled to hear that the Socratic method would dominate the process, but learning through the Socratic method is far less fun than learning about Socrates and his methods. I digress. After almost failing out of law school my first semester, I did something I never thought I would do—I asked for help. I reached out to upperclassmen and started hanging out with the older, wiser crowd. To gain their acceptance, I became a “yes man.” If they needed something done, I would do it. In return, they shared their secrets.
Overnight, I was drowning in various tips and outlines that allowed me to finally succeed. Despite my less than spectacular grades, my relationships led me to be perceived as a leader and a top student. No, I didn’t graduate anywhere near the top of my class, but I didn’t flunk out either.
Starting Over Yet Again
The value of relationship building was even more apparent after law school. It was 2011, the depth of the Great Recession. I had no job, no prospects, and no leads. Worse, I went to law school in New York and had no connection to the legal community in my home state of Colorado. After applying for every job I could possibly find, including non-legal positions, I was ready to give up. But my stubborn nature wouldn’t allow me to quit, so I got dressed up as if I was going to a job interview, printed out my résumé, and drove to the closest country club. I marched right up to the kitchen door, knocked on it, and asked for a job. Despite being somewhat overqualified, I was hired immediately. I, a newly admitted New York attorney, became a fine dining server.
While working as a server at a local country club was not on the top on my to-do list after law school, I hoped and assumed I would be introduced to the movers-and-shakers of Colorado Springs and, perhaps, I would be able to establish relationships that would lead to a legal job. I assumed wrong. Rather, my first job as an attorney would come from an equally unlikely place, a chance encounter at a different restaurant on a date with the man who would become my husband.
My future spouse was, and is, a chef, and he knew the chef of the restaurant we dined at. That chef introduced us to the owner of the restaurant. In my typical fashion I was unimpressed by his presumed importance, so much so that I questioned many of his restaurant’s design decisions to his face in front of a small crowd. Well, to my good fortune, it turned out that in addition to owning restaurants he was also an attorney of some fame, and my boldness had caught his attention. Next thing I knew I was passing the California bar exam and neck deep in a massive wrongful death case that shall go unnamed.
The Transactions That Bind
The point, if there is one, is that it wasn’t my law school or my grades or even my skills as a fine dining server that led to my success. It was my human connections, the everyday transactions of helping others or asking for help. Each one was a building block to a successful (and hopefully long) legal career.
I continue to connect, both with the legal and broader community. I never shy away from stepping up and have and will always say yes. With the relationships I have established over the years, I have built a successful practice and a fulfilling career. My transactions have made me who I am today.
We are the product of our experiences and have so much to learn as we grow. As we continue to adapt and evolve, we can never stop growing. So cherish each transaction—you never know what might come from your next one.
While working as a server at a local country club was not on the top on my to-do list after law school, I hoped and assumed I would be introduced to the movers-and-shakers of Colorado Springs and, perhaps, I would be able to establish relationships that would lead to a legal job. I assumed wrong.