Herd Bound

Perhaps it was the 3 articles in the ABA Journal’s weekly e-newsletter expressing astonishment at the success of lawyers going solo, or perhaps it was the odd looks I got at  yesterday’s County Bar’s New Lawyers Meeting when I introduced myself a SOS (solo out of school), but I been contemplating about herd bound horses and the practice of law.

I’m in the long process of gentling a young mare – a process made a bit more difficult by the fact that she’s herd bound. Now, for those of you who don’t know, a herd bound horse has a strong “emotional” attachment to its herd. Now, if this attachment is great for long term survival in the wild – for the wild horse, the herd provides direction and protection (straying to far from the herd tends to get one eaten). However, for the domestic horse whose biggest challenge is waiting for the 6:00 PM bucket of oats this attachment can be both a source of amusement and a source of frustration for its human servants – there’s nothing quite like trying to have a quiet ride when your horse is screaming, prancing, and whinnying simply because you’ve walked out of sight of the other horses. The typical herd bound horse is created early in its life – some where and some when, the young horse did not or was not properly imprinted by humans. Of the main undesirable traits a horse can pick up, this is one of the easiest to cure as it responds well to desensitization and bribery (basically its a process of moving that 6:00 PM bucket of oats further and further away from the herd – fastest way to a horse’s neurosis is through its stomach).

Now, my mare is about 90 days down the path (think of it as a 1000 step program) to a quiet ride and her progress together with those articles and odd looks got me thinking about how we lawyers are imprinted and how herd (or firm) bound that imprinting leaves us.

Schools in general and law schools in particular seem to be designed to teach moderately uncontroversial theory to future potential employees. This is reinforced by career placement programs that stress placement in a firm over the development of the legal entrepreneur. So, upon graduation we leave with the knowledge necessary to pass the bar exam and the working legal vocabulary of a moderately useful junior attorney – but no awareness of the day-to-day requirements of the business of law and little in terms of the practical, working application of the law. We leave the law school womb instinctively knowing that direction, position, protection, and survival come from the firm.

Based on those articles and those looks, it must be the daft, daring (or perhaps poorly imprinted) are walking away from the herd. But from my point of view it seems that in a world where the big law model seems to be collapsing under its own weight and where it is news when big name lawyers “make it” in the small law world, treading the solo path is not a matter of poor imprinting – its just not being herd-bound.