Yesterday, in Part I of this series, I discussed changing expectations in law school. Today, I present what may be the most important tip of all. Your legal reputation begins to be formed the second you first walk through the law school doors—perhaps even sooner if there's something about your application that starts the process.
Don't underestimate the power of your reputation. As you may know, I am in a small state with a small bar. But even in large areas, the community of lawyers is a small one, and lawyers of whatever stripe are notorious gossips. And people in your class will begin forming opinions about others on day one—just as you will be forming opinions about them.
Practically, what does this mean? Well, it means that you should take every action with an eye toward how it will be percieved. This is not to say that you should change who you are for the benefit of other people. Instead, it means you should carefully consider your actions. Sometimes you may want to change something about yourself, but sometimes you'll be able to say to the world, "this is me, so get used to it."
Let's look at a couple examples. Let's say you tend toward some unpleasant habit, procrastinating and not finishing assignments, for example. The impact on practicing law is obvious. Other lawyers will not want to refer clients to you, judges will not be pleased to see you in their courtroom, and it may be difficult to get covetet positions or assignments. This may be a personal trait that you may want to evaluate and possibly correct.
Other theoretically-negative traits aren't really harmful, or shouldn't be the basis of changing who you are. Political views are a good example. It's a given that political views will probably influence some aspect of a lawyer's career, whether it's that first job, or possibly eventually landing a spot on the bench. But even given that fact, nobody should feel pressured to change what they think about issues. After all, doing so hasn't worked well for national political candidates. Of course, considered and principled changing of views is a different matter—I'm just suggesting that changes should not be based on how it will affect one's reputation. But the decision to air views on a matter—and how to do so—are strong considerations.
In my case, aside from the usual in-school reputation, I've chosen to run this blog, and to do it in a non-anonymous way. I chose to keep doing it. I no longer agree with some of the things I've written, and I look back on some of the writing and cringe, but I leave it up for various reasons. Jill of Feministe has said it very well:
When it comes to internet-land, we all make choices. I’ve made a choice similar to Anthony[ Ciolli]’s — to co-run a website, and to do so under my full, real name. I’ve done that knowing that there will most certainly be consequences to that decision. There already have been. There have also been wonderful benefits, and so I’ve made the conscious choice to keep doing what I’m doing.
Read the whole post—it also shows the culmination of what can happen when someone cultivates an unnecessarily unappealing reputation.
So try to keep your reputation in mind when you're making decisions. Even though it can be repaired over time, sometimes, fixing it is not as easily as breaking it.