There’s no lack of advice for young lawyers starting their careers. The genre has a centuries-long history, and the latest economic shakeup has produced a lot of interest in helping young lawyers succeed. Like books on preparing for law school, there will always be an appetite for books aimed at those just beginning their legal careers. The best of these books don’t try to reinvent law practice and don’t throw out what came before. They gather up the wisdom of the profession carefully, as an heirloom, wrap it in new, crisp packaging, and present it joyfully to the apprentices who need it more than anything.
The Early-Career Guide for Attorneys by Kerry M. Lavelle is not that. It’s more like the aunt who always gave you underwear for Christmas. Practical, yes—but rather mundane, and you could have got it from the store yourself.
My first impression of the book wasn’t good. The first page written by the author, the dedication, is three hokey paragraphs when it should be one sentence. Reading further, I saw that Mr. Lavelle writes as he must speak—meaning the book almost reads like a trial transcript. And as I flipped through, I noticed something especially damning: about half the book (pages 147-266) is nothing more than an appendix of forms. That’s egregious padding.
First impressions aren’t everything. How is it when you get to the meat? I’d say underdone.
The writing is not good. It’s not unreadable, but it’s not good. Mr. Lavelle needed a professional copy editor to make it anything else (if he got an editor from the ABA, I suppose that editor had better things to do). Passive voice, poor punctuation, and wordiness suffuse. For example, here’s the opener for the second chapter: “As discussed in Chapter 1, it is incumbent upon you to network as much as possible to enhance your possibility of obtaining a job.” What a thunker. Let’s cut that down to size: “You must network to get a job.” That wasn’t so hard.
The book also contains a sometimes-humorous tone deafness that results, I think, from taking this whole project a little too seriously. An example: he repeatedly tells the reader to become the “five-tool attorney,” which, given the reputation of lawyers, made my wife snicker a certain amount.
As for the advice Mr. Lavelle has to dispense, it’s practical but routine. I imagine you’d get the same advice from any hiring partner at a mid-size law firm in the Chicago suburbs. Or, for that matter, from your law school career counselor (and then it’d cost you less). If you want a job at Mr. Lavelle’s firm or any other 28-lawyer do-everything local law firm, the book is very specific and helpful. Mr. Lavelle is clear about his expectations of new associates, which mostly boils down to: do A+ work, meet your billable hours quota, and get involved in the community.
If you aren’t in Mr. Lavelle’s world of traditional law practice at an established firm, however, this book is not for you. This book is not for the new solo, not for those starting a business, and not for anyone who wants to break the mold. This book tells you what the mold is. This book tells you to press yourself into it.
The biggest problem with this book is the price. It’s $59.95, which is frankly insulting for a book that hasn’t been copyedited properly and has only 145 pages of real content. In reality, this is a self-published book by an amateur author with the ABA logo and ABA price slapped on.
Thankfully, I didn’t pay $60 for this book; the ABA sent me a review copy for free (thanks!). I can see this book being worth something to someone, certainly. But not $60. That’s a lot of money for some underwear.
The news isn’t all bad. The ABA publishes other books in this genre that are much better and cost less. For less than $60 you can buy both The Marble and the Sculptor by Keith Lee and the more recent Building a Better Law Practice by Jeremy Richter. Buy those instead.