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Chinn: Back to School

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iba-chinn-scottDoes it feel like it is the end of summer already? Not to me. We’re still so close to the stretch of 90-plus degree days that is making this the hottest summer on record. And even though the Brickyard, the Olympics, and the Indiana State Fair are behind us – I don’t feel ready for fall.

Alas, I have already seen and heard the hustle and bustle of yellow school buses on the move and parents carting their children off to another semester at college. At the law school level, I have already taken part in back-to-school activities. I met some 2L students at a reception at the Maurer School the other evening hosted by my law firm. And on behalf of the IndyBar, I spoke briefly to the incoming 1L class at the McKinney School at orientation weekend.

As much as I try to not waste an opportunity to engage audiences – especially ones made up of impressionable young people – I am quite conscious that what I said to the new students at the McKinney School was ephemeral. Here are my excuses: First, I followed Dean Gary Roberts, Judge Jose Salinas, and Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson. They are impressive people against whom I was going to pale in comparison in any event. Second, my role was necessarily and appropriately limited – to give a welcome to law school on behalf of the profession and, thereby, to introduce them to the IndyBar.

If I had had more time, I would have made slightly headier points. If only I had a forum to do that now, I would … Oh, right. Okay, here goes. Let’s pretend I turned serious in mid-speech:

“… And that’s why the first law school text books were covered in goat skin!

Now, let me give you a few substantive thoughts – three things to keep in the back of your mind as you get acquainted with the elements of torts and contracts. First, you are undoubtedly hearing a lot about how tough the job market is right now, and that coupled with tight hiring are significant changes in the profession that make the future of law practice cloudy. Well, it’s true. The days of plentiful law jobs for new lawyers seem gone for the near future. And no one exactly knows what the long-term holds. But this adversity does give you an opportunity – the opportunity to hone in on what you really want to do. I have long said that key to a long and hopefully happy career in the law is to do something you really are interested in and enjoy. So, every now and then during your law school career, ask yourself what courses you genuinely like the most. Think about how your other intellectual and social interests relate. But you also might end up feeling passionate about a specific legal pursuit, and when you do, for Pete’s sake go for it!

Second, don’t forget that one of the most important parts about being a lawyer – helping people. You are going to help a lot of people who ask for your help (whether or not you get paid for the privilege of your assistance). Lawyers solve problems, they promote peace, and they help lead the direction of institutions – both maintaining them and reforming them. Don’t shrink from these tasks (read: “obligations”), they are what you are trained for.

Finally, become part of the profession. And start that by finding out what we mean by “profession.” It’s the opportunity to engage your fellow lawyers to learn, grow, help, recreate, think, and lead. I’m not asking you to put down the Facebook and the Twitter accounts. Use those avenues to network and use some older ones too – like meeting people for coffee or a beer. I promise you this, even in these economically tough times, the benefits of honest, thoughtful networking – the kind on which real relationships are built – accrue geometrically. We’re trying our damnedest at the IndyBar to support your efforts, because we can’t wait to be your colleagues.

Best wishes on a great year as you start your legal career.”•

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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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