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Advice for law students, and those who once were

As summer winds down and colleges usher in the new school year, here’s one for the latest crop of law students.

The Clinical Law Prof Blog recently published a post by Patricia Roberts, director of clinical programs at the William & Mary law school. Roberts was also one of Virginia Lawyers Weekly’s Influential Women of 2015.

In her post, Roberts recalls a time early in her teaching career when she was tasked with “inspiring” first-year law students during orientation. The advice she gave them still resonates today, and not just for the lawyer would-bes. Any attorney who’s currently in practice, whether for two months or for 40 years, should be able to take Roberts’ words of wisdom to heart.

Her advice:

  • Remember that being a lawyer is an immense responsibility – people trust you with their lives and livelihoods.
  • Commit to the highest standards of professional behavior. The likelihood of being caught when you break the rules is 100 percent.
  • Make your career more than a quest for material things, as such a quest proves empty and unrewarding.
  • Help those who cannot help themselves. An overwhelming number of people need a dedicated lawyer’s skills and passion to preserve life, liberty and happiness.

And perhaps the most critical question law students (and professionals) should ask themselves: Who do you want to be as a lawyer?

Roberts shares the story of a W&M law grad who liked to joke that his contribution to law school was holding up the top three-fourths of his class. But despite his less than stellar GPA, this lawyer went on to develop a very successful law practice that had a meaningful impact on his clients’ lives, not just their cases. Clients and attorneys alike spoke highly of his kindness and respect for others and the profession.

That lawyer? Her late husband, Ken Roberts, who died suddenly in 2006 at the age of 41.

“Don’t forget why you came to law school,” Roberts advises. “Write down those reasons today as you embark on this journey, and look to them often during law school. If you remember those reasons each morning, this will be a career that sustains your spirit.”

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