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Glory Days

Vivia Chen

May 17, 2011

Carrie Hope this isn't too prying: Were you voted most-likely-to-succeed in high school? Were you Mister or Miss Perfect--the straight-A student who scored (effortlessly) in the 99th percentile on standardized tests, ran the student council, edited the school paper, and, to top it all off, also served as head cheerleader or captain of the soccer team?

Ok, that last bit was gratuitous: If you're in law, odds are slim that you came within breathing distance of cheerleaders or star athletes. Still, if you're working in Big Law, it's likely that you once belonged to some form of the most-likely-to-succeed club.

Which brings up this question: Did that early expectation of success help or hinder you in your career? According to The Wall Street Journal's The Juggle, it's a mixed bag. Though one in four found the label an "inspiration":

Nearly one-third of those named "most likely" in high school regard it later as "a curse," according to a recent poll of 1,369 members of MemoryLane.com, which links users to high school classmates, yearbooks,  and nostalgic material. Some say the label makes them feel stuck with high school definitions of success, which invariably involve rising to the top of a profession, making lots of money, or both.

I have a sneaking suspicion that the percentage of lawyers who feel they've failed to live up to their potential probably runs high. Fact is, no matter what you've accomplished in law, there's always those who have achieved more--and made more money. Indeed, it's pretty easy to feel insecure at every rung of the legal ladder--it might be that you didn't go to the right law school, make law review, snag a job at a "good" firm, or attain partnership. Couple those insecurities with how ridiculously competitive it is to make it in Big Law, and you're pretty much guaranteed a lifetime's worth of neurosis.

In the WSJ article, several former winners of the most-likely accolade recounted how that honor shaped their lives. Brandon Hogan, 29, a onetime Harvard Law student, who's now a doctoral candidate in philosophy at the University of Pittsburgh, told the WSJ that the pressure "to make sure I live up to [the most-likely-to-succeed title]" was what kept him "from seriously considering dropping out" of law school. What the article didn't say, however, was whether he's happy he stuck it out at HLS. My assumption is probably not, since he's now completely out of law.

Another winner, Deborah de Freitas, 42, floundered in college, changing majors several times, before finally graduating. Now a marketing director, she told the WSJ that "the person I was in high school is kind of foreign to me." Instead of winning the success honor, she said she wishes that she had won the "most likely to be happy" award.

I wonder how many lawyers feel the same way.

 Photo: Carrie, IMDB.com

Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.

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Your comment about head cheerleaders and sports teams captains was hardly gratuitous. People with that sort of experience tend to be good at team work, time managment, multi-tasking and competing, all of which are good traits for lawyers. I actually look for those sorts of experiences when interviewing law students for Big Law jobs. The pure geeks are far more likely to fail.

Two of my best friends are in law school (columbia and penn) and were both cheerleading captains. While most lawyers are socially inept, not all of them are.

Good to know that all the isolation and social alienation I endured in high school will eventually pay off. Maybe I can represent Omar bin Laden in his wrongful death lawsuit against the government once i'm done with law school: http://lawblog.legalmatch.com/2011/05/17/note-to-omar-bin-laden-no-wrongful-death-lawsuit-for-osama-bin-laden/

It'll definitely pay off those debts...

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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