Before the Covid-19 pandemic started, I had just finished teaching Advanced Trial Advocacy at the University of San Diego, School of Law. Because I experimented this year with a new schedule, I am one of the few professors who finished teaching before California’s Shelter in Place orders took effect.
I’ve been thinking about my students… a lot. I am concerned about your mental health. I’ve heard of job offers rescinded, uncertainty about the Bar Exam, and a fog of relentless fear and despair about the future.
My message to you is this: “This too shall pass.” Please don’t take it as minimizing your reality… I recognize this is bad. Very bad. The timing for you in particular is bad. Very bad. For me, “This too shall pass,” is not a brushing off of your reality, but a recognition of it.
When I was a second year in law school, the Dot Com bubble burst. Almost all offers for big firms were rescinded. I ranked #9 in my law school class which was high enough that almost every San Diego firm wanted to talk to me. I went to interview after interview and heard the same message – “It was nice to meet you but we are not hiring for the summer.” It felt cruel to drag me into an interview just to make it clear there was no job – not for me, not for anyone. I was discouraged. I talked to my dad, a trial lawyer who seemed to carry the wisdom of centuries. He told me, “Don’t worry Bibi. This too shall pass.”
And you know what? Much to my surprise, it did. By the time I graduated, I had a job. In fact, most of us did. It wasn’t my first choice job. I wasn’t making the salary I had hoped for. But it turned out to be a great job where I learned a lot and forged lasting relationships. Just as quickly as the market turned bad, it shot through the roof again. I got the big firm job that I was convinced I’d never get post Dot Com. My salary doubled and because good lawyers were in short supply, law firms engaged in a race to the top salary spot. After another year had passed, my salary doubled again.
I found myself working so many hours to justify my new inflated salary. It was what I thought I wanted, but by now I had a 2 year old, a newborn, and a deployable husband in the Navy. I was burning the candle at both ends. I wouldn’t stop; so my body made me. When my body had too much, it would shut down, and I would collapse, unconscious. I took at least five ambulance rides because I kept pushing and pushing. I didn’t know how to stop. I cried to my dad about this cycle and how I couldn’t see the way out. Again he said, “This too shall pass.” And it did. As I got more senior, I got to pick my projects and work more reasonable hours because I had proven my value.
One of my partners approached me about leaving the firm and starting our own. He would make me a named partner after 3 years and I would make a percentage, which was supposed to be 2-3 times more than my salary. We had an anchor client giving us nationwide work which would require my full efforts. That was in 2008 – 30 days before the great recession. The anchor client went into bankruptcy and we had no backup plan. I now had a big mortgage and I didn’t know how I was going to pay it. The anxiety and panic kept me up half the night, every night, for weeks on end. I listened to my dad say, “This too shall pass.” And again it did. We worked hard, took loans, reduced our rates, and started taking contingency cases. We made it through. When the market turned – as it always does – we more than filled in our one anchor client and started hiring.
I left an established plaintiff’s firm in January of this year to start Fell Law, PC. I should have predicted something crazy would happen. But you know what? This too shall pass. It always has and it will again.
My dear students, This too shall pass. You will graduate. You will get a job. The market will turn as quickly as it dropped. You will not just survive, you will thrive. Don’t worry about the future because your grave predictions are necessarily wrong. Focus your energy on sowing seeds that will bear fruit after you graduate. Build relationships, write articles, follow lawyers you admire and learn from them, find out what’s important to you so when the market turns and a world of options are at your feet, you are armed to make the best long term choice. This too shall pass. It always does.