THE EFFECTIVE LAWYER EPISODE 22: Mastering Law School and a Legal Career Later in Life
Join Zinda Law Group CEO and lead trial lawyer, Jack Zinda, as he speaks with one of the firm’s senior trial attorneys, Jason Aldridge, about what it’s like to start law school and a legal career later in life. For attorneys who start law school in their 30s and 40s, it can be challenging, overwhelming, and even a little intimidating. Jason, one of the top trial attorneys in Texas, walks Jack through the process of applying to and attending law school later in life after having worked in many other fields. Jason also offers valuable tips for mid-career professionals who want to take the plunge into law and excel in a law firm environment.
Discussed in this Episode:
• Life before law school
• Why people with diverse life experiences make the best trial lawyers
• What it takes to be a good trial lawyer
• Making the most of free time
• Finding a job after law school
• Listening and having empathy
• Accelerating growth
• Identifying goals and achieving them
Life Before Law School
Jason served in the army after high school under the notion that it would lead to medical school. Once Jason left the army, he became a golf professional and then worked at a financial firm. Jason also waited tables and worked as a bartender. Eventually, he landed in Vegas and worked in the casino industry as a pit boss. After a while, he began to consider law school, even though he didn’t have college credits.
“I planned my degree like you can’t imagine. I took 30 credits in one semester because you can stack three, four, and five-week courses.”
Jason originally planned to be a prosecutor, but the application process took a very long time.
After law school graduation, he landed at Zinda Law Group and never looked back.
Why People with Diverse Life Experiences Make the Best Trial Lawyers
“I think every job is sales to some extent,” Jason said. “If you’ve ever waited tables and you’ve got to try to make five people happy…if you’ve ever done that, then you learn how to listen.”
At the heart of every trial lawyer’s career is the art of connecting with people. Jason also had supervisory experience as a pit boss working with diverse groups of people, which helped him relate to clients as a trial lawyer. His work in Las Vegas somewhat resembled his responsibilities as a trial lawyer today.
“You have to make sure you don’t make mistakes because those are very expensive. You have to make sure that you take care of the player within the limits of the rules.”
Tip 1: What it Takes to Be a Good Trial Lawyer
Jason took many of the life lessons he learned while being a pit boss and applied them in his legal career.
“There are several things that correlate to being a good trial lawyer,” Jack said. “One is high pressure and moving quickly and having to be accurate.”
As a trial lawyer, you must be quick on your feet and avoid misstating the law, as that can have a detrimental impact on your case. Lawyers who learn that in previous careers tend to have a leg up over other lawyers and law students.
Tip 2: Making the Most of Free Time
One of Jason and Jack’s biggest tips for law students is to make the most of their law school commutes.
“Try to fill the dead time that you have with getting ahead and studying,” Jack said.
Law school also breeds a culture of high-performance and success amongst students.
“If you’re there, you already know what it took to be there. Most of the kids in law school are performers; they’re great people. If you go to law school later in life, then you’ve already worked to be there,” Jason remarked.
Tip 3: Finding a Job After Law School
First, Jason applied for an internship with the Travis County District Attorney’s office, but the application process took a long time. Next, Jason found Zinda Law Group, which was rapidly expanding when he submitted his application.
“It wasn’t about the law; it was about the firm,” Jason said.
Jason also sent several emails, LinkedIn messages, and submitted his application in-person. His goal was to distinguish himself from his resume.
“If you put yourself in the mix with these college kids, it’s hard to stand out. For me, that was my best bet – to meet someone to show that I was different than my resume.”
Tip 4: Learn to Listen and Have Empathy
One of Jason’s biggest tips for new lawyers, especially those with prior professional experiences, is to listen and find common ground with clients.
“You don’t have to convince anyone. You just have to listen. I learned that selling cars,” Jason said. “The best car salesman didn’t really talk, they just listened.”
If the commonality isn’t genuine, most clients can tell when connections are not natural. Even well-meaning lawyers can find themselves trying to sell their services without showing empathy or trying to find common ground. To be a trial lawyer, you really have to understand people’s motivations and concerns.
Tip 5: Focus on Accelerating Growth
To learn the most as a trial lawyer in a short period of time, Jason emphasizes being very intentional about the learning process.
“I didn’t wait for information to find me,” Jason said.
Instead, Jason actively tried to learn what he didn’t already know in the practice law. One of the most important traits of lawyers is to understand what you do not know. Once you do that, you can learn more and improve your practice.
Tip 6: Set Goals and Ask for What You Want
Many younger attorneys avoid voicing their goals to senior attorneys and partners, but Jason constantly works with Jack and the partners at Zinda Law Group to identify his goals and achieve them. All that is involved is identifying what you want and mapping out how to get there.
“Find a part of a case that the person above you doesn’t want to do and do that,” Jason said. “Nobody is ever going to stop you from learning.”