As an adjunct professor at Texas A&M School of Law teaching Law Practice Management, I am always looking for different approaches to help the students. In the past three years, students have written their goals, completed questionnaires with simple but thought-provoking questions (for example, how much do you need to retire, what would you do when you retire and why aren’t you doing it now), listened to guest speakers, completed mid-term course evaluations and met with me one on one outside of class to discuss their future.
This semester the president of law school student body association is a student in my class. He told me that the law school hosted a popular “significant other” mixer and thought it would be interesting for the class to hear from my significant other about the pros and cons of being in a relationship with a lawyer. When I suggested the class might also want to hear from my 19-year-old and 15-year-old sons about being the child of an attorney, he agreed.
The night before the class, my wife, sons and I conducted a “dress rehearsal” during our family dinner. It was a complete failure. When I suggested that a bad dress rehearsal is sometimes a good omen, my 15-year-old, who is a sound tech for his school theatre, said he has seen a lot of bad dress rehearsals and the actual play is also usually terrible.
So, the next day, my wife and two sons came to the class. I had a guest speaker for the first part of the class and then I had the family sit on the small stage facing the class. The format was informal question and answer. Surprisingly, it worked. The students were engaged and respectful and my wife and boys were articulate and interesting.
The majority of the pros and cons of being married to or the son of an attorney were as expected. The family appreciated the revenue I generated and the comfortable lifestyle we have. On the other hand, I was not around much when the boys were very young, leaving my wife with virtually all of the child rearing and household duties.
My wife then told the class about when the oldest was 5 and the youngest was 1, I made the decision to be home for breakfast and dinner with the family every day (absent out of town travel or trial). My wife and both boys said the decision was the turnaround of our family dynamic. We developed a rule that what was said at the dinner table stayed at the dinner table (and no phones allowed) and as the years progressed, our children talked to us about their feelings on everything from mundane issues (see video games) up to discussions about religion, sex, drugs and alcohol. My wife appreciated the help (and my presence) and my boys talked about how they appreciated the open communications that developed between all of us.
The students asked how my boys felt about me being home more and the students asked me if I would be the lawyer I am now if I didn’t work the long hours before I made the decision to be home for breakfast and dinner. My boys said they did appreciate the change and I said the long hours did provide a base for my practice but I believe I would have been successful even without the long early hours.
These questions reflect an old school mentality of some of the law students. Many students expect to be working very hard with long hours and having no fun early in their career. It is not something to be feared; but is more of a badge of honor. That surprises me a little. This isn’t the happy go lucky millennial attitude. This is a depression era, lunch pail work ethic. I see and feel fear mixed with a touch of pride. My suggestion that maybe you can still be successful while having a social life and working less than 100 hours a week was met, not with happiness or relief, but with skepticism and confusion.
Ultimately, I was proud about how my wife and boys handled themselves in front of 29 of the best and brightest law students and I learned a little more about what makes my students tick. All in all, a good play after a bad dress rehearsal.