Sean shares advice on self-care, rolling with the punches, and much more.
I wanted to take this opportunity to reflect on my life and career as I approach 30, and send you the letter that I wish I had when I was 20, studying undergraduate law in the University of Limerick.
For the sake of the time-space continuum, I’ll try to impart what little wisdom I have without going into specifics of the past decade - when you finally watch ‘Back to the Future’, you’ll understand why.
First, self-care is non-optional. That seems like basic advice for an aspiring lawyer - but for someone who considers themselves at least passably competent, it’s embarrassing how long that will take to sink in for you.
You’re going to want to work and study late all the time, even if just to show yourself that you can. You don’t really know how to cook anything with vegetables. You have not ever willingly set foot in a gym. You’ll miss out on seeing old friends because the library is quieter on weekends. There will nobody around to tell you that all of that is a problem, until you start playing ‘The Sims’ and realise how quickly your Sim’s mood starts to feel relatable when you don’t make them eat properly or exercise.
Mind yourself first, and everything else falls into place after.
Second, I can confirm you actually will genuinely like law - when you finally stop trying to emulate what you think working in law is supposed to look like. Being a good lawyer is not about being a sharp-spoken encyclopaedia of ratio decidendi (or, at least, that’s not the only way to do it). Your view will change when you eventually meet some amazing lawyers who can build instant connections with clients by saying ‘That’s a tough problem you have - I don’t know how to fix it right now, but I’m going to try to figure it out, same as if it were my own problem’. Those lawyers who can freely admit the limits of their own knowledge are the only ones who actually empathise with their clients and that, in turn, leads to genuinely helping people. You know how lecturers constantly remind students ‘tie your answer back to the exam question’? That actually carries over to real life - it means stop focusing only on your answer, and just really try to understand what the person in front of you needs. You’ll get better at law, and find out what it is you like about this career in the first place.
Third - everyone has a plan, until they get punched in the mouth. So make a plan, but get ready to get hit. Law students are both blessed and cursed by being teased with a well-trodden career path: good degree, good traineeship, qualify, work hard, become a partner, retire wealthy. That’s nice ideal, but at some point life will throw up an obstacle or a detour. You will fail some exams. A great interview will be followed up by an impersonal rejection. Someone you know will get sick. You might decide to change paths entirely. Life, and your career, are not predicated on avoiding these unexpected problems - those problems are actually what constitute most of your life. You can’t avoid them, nor should you want to. Try to see the obstacle as it is - an opportunity to practice picking yourself up, and finding a new way ahead. That’s going to happen a lot before you realise why it’s important. It’s a cliché, but things really will work out as they are supposed to. Finally, and if nothing else, please trust me on this: don’t get too invested in Game of Thrones beyond season 6. Other than that, you’ll be fine. Life gets really good in ways you can’t really predict. I look forward to being you in the future.
Yours (and mine),
Trainee Legal Counsel at Heineken