Sources of Professional “Inspiration”

For a Bar Association program in 2003, I was asked to answer this question: “What do you find inspires your colleagues most?” (NOTE: The date on my file says “2003,” but I find that hard to believe.)

My answer, in part, was:inspiration-290x273

I think that there are two main things that guide us at our firm when we are at our best. The first is the models provided by older lawyers whom the younger ones want to emulate. I have now witnessed this working over 2 or 3 generations and I think that there is more power in the example of an admired professional than in all the vision and mission statements and ethics codes in the world.

Second, is membership in a mutually supportive community of people – a partnership – who like, respect and enjoy each other. We’re never as good as we ought to be in our firm, but sometimes we are very good and I guess that collegiality and community really are sources of “inspiration and dedication”.

The things that inspire my colleagues most, I think, are the examples of admired colleagues and the sense of community and shared purpose.

Over the (apparently, many) years since then, I have become more convinced of my answer. And, in these sources of “inspiration” (that was my interlocutor’s term, not mine) can be found the foundations and future role and functions of law firms. In the 21st Century, law firms won’t be needed as much as they were in the 20th Century, for shared infrastructures and practice support resources. They won’t be needed for scale or efficiencies.

But, they will be needed to develop and form true professionals. Always, the profession has been shaped by its models. In the 19th Century, the bar itself was a cohesive community and a ready source of models. In the 20th Century, those roles shifted to firms. In the 21st Century, as local, state and national boundaries count for less and less; compelling models of professionalism will be needed more and more — especially as collaborating and contesting lawyers seek to connect over greater and greater distances.

There is a lot of talk just now about mentors. Yes. But do not confuse mentors with models.

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