Friends and Fellow Lawyers:
A law student asked for career advice. He had a job offer from a good law firm, but what he most wanted to do with his life was to be the chef in his own fine restaurant. He loved cooking, and people loved what he did in a kitchen. Family and financial pressures won out so off he went, reluctantly I thought, to be a lawyer. I lost track of him.
Ralph Cagle, U.W. 1974, is of counsel to Hurley, Burish & Stanton, S.C., Madison, practicing principally in professional responsibility law and serving as a mediator. He is also an emeritus clinical professor at the U.W. Law School.
So if you’re out there, call. Let me know how it all worked out. Lawyers, like this talented young man, bring unique abilities and ambitions to their professional lives and sometimes that creates conflicted choices.
Here are a few familiar people who were lawyers or law students, but who also had other careers in which they left their mark on our world.
Visual artists, writers, and performers: Cezanne, Matisse, Kandinsky, Kafka, Goethe, Moliere, de Tocqueville, Noah Webster, Archibald McLeish, Erle Stanley Gardner, Studs Terkel, Cole Porter, Paul Robeson, Hoagy Carmichael, Andrea Bocelli, Julio Iglesias, John Cleese, and Raul Julia.
Sports figures: Branch Rickey, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, Moe Berg, Mel Allen, Tony La Russa, Steve Young, Ken Dryden, Steve Shorter, Ken Bowman, Alan Page, Bob Thomas, Byron “Whizzer” White, David Stern, Howard Cosell, and Vince Lombardi (a semester at Fordham Law).
Public officials and political figures: They are too numerous to list, but include 25 of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, 32 of 55 framers of the Constitution, and 25 of 44 U.S. Presidents. Let’s at least acknowledge the law-trained leaders of historic revolutions of liberation: Gandhi, Mandela, Castro, Robespierre, Giuseppe Mazzini; and our own great revolutionaries: Patrick Henry, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and company. A law firm could form from four law-trained German and Russian leaders: Marx, Lenin, Gorbachev, and Putin.
What we learn prepares us for law careers but also teaches habits of mind that can bring insights to other life enterprises.
What’s the lesson here?
One. Legal education is a powerful learning experience. What we learn prepares us for law careers but also teaches habits of mind that can bring insights to other life enterprises.
Two. Some lawyers divide themselves between law and other pursuits such as the following: alternating stints in law firms and in public or elected office (Abraham Lincoln, Christine Lagarde); law practice by day and creative writing by night (Scott Turow, Wallace Stevens); or working in both the courtroom and the classroom (Alan Dershowitz, Marian Wright Edelman).
Three. Some switch not from law but to law, bringing from other careers talents such as technological expertise, entrepreneurial energy, interpersonal skills, leadership ability, or creative vision that benefit them in their law practices.
Four. Choices matter. A legal career is a choice for service and personal satisfaction. Some of us try cases, some draft contracts; some prosecute crimes, some prosecute patents; some represent the powerful and some the poor. But lawyers can also choose other directions. Some write novels or song lyrics, some perform on stage, some lead sports teams, and some lead revolutions.
So, make your own choices; choose the freeway, main street, or the road less traveled. All can provide opportunities for a wonderful life. For you and for those whose lives you inevitably touch, your choice can make all the difference.