As an unabashed and unapologetic fan of “Hamilton: An American Musical,” I interpret some of the lyrics that helped inspire my legal career as much as the lyrics apply to the Founding Fathers. I’d argue that one of the musical’s most important threads deals with overcoming adversity, drive and success. While reflecting back on my own experiences starting as an intern and working my way up the chain of command, it only seemed appropriate to convey my thoughts on the legal profession based on the lessons embedded within this musical masterpiece. These thoughts are intended to help encourage and motivate others who are entering the career field or climbing up the ladder in their legal careers.
“Aaron Burr, Sir.”
“Talk less. Smile more. Don’t let them know what you’re against or what you’re for.” This one can be viewed as very contextual depending on your mindset. Starting off in my career, I approached every meeting and interaction with a mindset of listening and observing others. Talking was always secondary. Stopping to listen and pay attention to others in order to truly understand what was being said is all too rare. Deciding when it’s best to say something and when it isn’t is crucial. My goal was always to learn faster. With this, I encouraged myself to ask questions when necessary, learn from others, and choose my own path to maximize learning. Taking a step back to smile and listen turned out to be quite rewarding and, as I learned in my career, often results in a more meaningful connection.
Lyric: “I am not throwing away my shot!” A “shot” can be interpreted as a window of opportunity. While being proactive in my career, I made a decision early on to take on any new opportunity wholeheartedly, as I recognized that opportunities are transient and understood I must act quickly and effectively to seize an opportunity before a window closes. Understanding that there is no perfect time for opportunities to materialize, I have made an effort to get as much exposure and experience in the field as possible. Whether that be Pro Bono work, accepting a new position, or taking on a new case in a different practice area, I have learned to seek, develop, and take on windows of opportunities. I never let my age, background, uncertainty or challenges I faced determine what I could do in life. I had a vision for what I wanted my world to be and then seized every opportunity to turn my vision into reality.
“Right Hand Man”
Lyric: “I’ll rise above my station, organize your information …” Throughout my career, as I took on new roles or responsibilities, I became a valuable member to the team. No matter where I was in my career, I learned there was always much more progress to be made and more to be accomplished. Learning that lightening the load for influential leaders can result in greater visibility, I have gained valuable experience and a faster path toward moving up the organizational ladder—plus, it has often helped place me “in the room where it happens” (see below).
“Wait for It”
Lyric: “I am the one thing in life I can control.” Early on in my career, I learned to commit to my goals and realized I am the master of my own destiny. While there is so much we can worry about that we have no control over, the only thing we truly can control is ourselves. I didn’t wait for someone to present me with a platter of opportunities, I recognized what I wanted to do and worked to make it happen. I decided who I was and who I wanted to be, while believing in myself, determining my direction, and following my own path that I made for myself. Being self-aware, making decisions, identifying my obstacles, and building a plan to remove those obstacles helped me move toward achieving desired goals.
“Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)”
Lyric: “Hercules Mulligan, I need no introduction, when you knock me down I get the f*** back up again!” This line represents the ability to embrace failure through grit, resilience and determination, and the capacity to handle challenges and to rise up for hardships. These are the building blocks of success. There have been times I have failed and times when I made bad career choices, more so than many others even try, but throughout the challenging times, I’ve had the resilience to keep moving forward. I have never let the defeatists stop me from following my direction and achieving my goals. Throughout the many times I have been knocked down, I have always pulled myself back up and came out stronger and smarter in the end.
Lyrics: “Why do you assume you’re the smartest in the room? / Soon that attitude may be your doom!” Being successful in law has two components: one’s technical legal skills and your ability to work well with others. From the time of having a “listening mindset,” to advancing and developing more confidence in my career, I have acknowledged that many may certainly be the smartest person in the room, but without the competence of facilitating interaction and communication with others and an understanding of the needs of one’s clients and colleagues, their perceived arrogance can place serious limits on their careers. In other words, when you put your needs in front of those of your client’s and colleagues and when you’re overly prideful, you’re often the one who will get hurt the most. Over the years, I have learned that a simple smile, greeting, or inquiry on how someone is doing goes a long way.
“The Room Where It Happens”
Lyric: “When you got skin in the game, you stay in the game. But you don’t get a win unless you play in the game. Oh, you get love for it. You get hate for it. You get nothing if you … Wait for it, wait for it, wait!” Thriving in the legal field requires tough skin and one to be engaged. As I grew in my career, I learned that I need to be part of the program and contribute my ideas or views, while also sharpening my skills and continuing my legal education through learning opportunities and events with local bar associations and law firms. When dealing with different personalities, difficult cases, and tight deadlines, it quickly became apparent that possessing confidence, time management skills, and the ability to speak up was imperative. In order to be engaged, having confidence and sharing ideas is fundamental, as well as being invested in what we say, do, and how we do it.
“The World Was Wide Enough”
Lyric: “What is a legacy? It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” We rarely, if ever, will get to see our legacy, but if you are fortunate, you can know what you are trying to grow. We each create our own legacy by the seeds we choose to plant. As part of the legal profession, I succeeded when learning those seeds are spread wider to those we interact with and clients who we represent. I, as I’m sure many others, want to have a fulfilling impact and career. In order to have an impact and a connected sense of purpose, I invest time in pro bono work and volunteer to speak with students interested in the field. If I can offer some guidance to others, those who I have helped will be proof that I have contributed to making a difference.
In closing, “Hamilton” has been a powerful reminder of the free-will and unlimited potential we all possess. How we think, act, and respond can make the difference in having a mediocre, good or great legal career. It is important to rise up, take your shot and get into the rooms where it happens.