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What law students, legal entrepreneurs can learn from Ferris Bueller

By Ryan Handlarski

“Life moves pretty fast,” says a young Matthew Broderick to the camera breaking the fourth wall with the audience in the classic 80s movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I loved this movie when I was a kid and have watched it more times than I can count on rainy days. But other than being just a classic funny and universally beloved movie, there is something about Ferris Bueller’s words of wisdom that law students should consider.

When I was in law school, I saw only one way forward for myself and that was to try to get high grades and achieve as much as I could. This is by no means a bad strategy and it worked for me in large measure because I got to work for law firms and lawyers who I thought were outstanding and wonderful people to learn from. But when I ultimately decided that I had to strike out on my own and start my own firm, I found that the real world was a bit different than the one that I had imagined.

In the real world, there are brilliant defence lawyers that do not make very much money and completely clueless defence lawyers that are making a lot of money. This is a very interesting realization for the people like me who thought that the only way to advance was by achieving and getting high grades.

Getting older and becoming an entrepreneur exposed my line of thinking about how to get ahead in law school as at the very least not the whole story and possibly not true at all in the case of entrepreneurs.

The truth is that in the real world, people like the character Ferris Bueller are usually very successful.

Sociable, likeable, memorable, funny, comfortable with risk, open to experiences, who cares if such a person skips class and under-performs or is average in school? When I was in law school, I could detect a difference in mentality between the students from wealthy backgrounds who were totally cool with the circumstances they were in and the students, like me, who were wracked with fear because of debt and the competitive job market. The mentality was completely different. And because the mentality was different, the wealthier students were much more likely to open themselves up to experiences in law school and create lasting friendships than the students that were wracked with fear. This makes a huge difference in economic outcomes over the long term and especially if you become an entrepreneur.

What people like Ferris Bueller and the wealthy law students I went to law school with have helped me realize is that life comes at you in phases. I wish I had realized this much sooner in life. You have to try to enjoy the phases of life as they come at you because once they are gone, you do not get to do them over. The circumstances never repeat themselves. For example, during your undergraduate years, two things will coincide for most people that will never coincide again – a substantial amount of independence and virtually no responsibilities. That is an extraordinary time in life if you stop and think about it with a world of opportunities, but I never thought about it for a moment. In law school, there are so many smart, interesting and thoughtful people around you all the time. I can point to so many people on my Facebook list or that I have heard of doing so many interesting things. I wish I knew them better and could find out more about what they are doing. Seeing many of my colleagues become successful made me realize that law school is an extraordinary opportunity to get to know such people in a unique environment where we all share some very intense experiences.

Understanding the advantages of the particular phase of life that you are in, enjoying it and building relationships with people is not just beneficial because of the immediate benefits of good experiences and friendship, it ends up being good business. The people you become friends with in university, particularly in law school, become one of the best sources of referral. And to whom do you imagine these other lawyers refer cases that come to them? To the lawyer that got the highest grade in criminal law or evidence? Or to the lawyer who he or she had a shared and memorable experience with in law school?

For me in my life and I think generally the most lasting friendships are built through positive shared experiences. It is the reason why sports teams that won a championship together can have a lifelong bond or why you can still be dear friends with someone you grew up with even though you both may live in different cities or life took you in different directions. Whenever you get together, no matter how long it has been since you last saw each other, the memories and shared experiences give you a bond that lasts.

I truly believe one of the reasons that wealth tends to perpetuate itself in the legal profession is because the law students that are wealthy have the sort of mentality that is much more likely to lead to them opening themselves up to experiences and creating lasting relationships. They have other advantages as well, but this is an advantage that can be seized upon by any law student just by changing their mentality.

I am not saying that grades are not important. I still think it is very important to get high grades and try to be a high achiever in law school. But it is also very important to understand that relationships matter a lot in the real world, especially as an entrepreneur and the opportunity to create bonds with smart, talented and interesting people does not come around all the time in life. Law school is a unique opportunity to build relationships with great people.

If I were to summarize my experiences in life and in law, I would say that life comes at you in phases. Make sure to enjoy the phase of life you are in, try to experience the unique things that the particular phase of life has to offer and do not miss an opportunity to build relationships with smart and interesting people along the way. You do not get a do-over for a particular phase of life, no matter how much you may want one when you are older. Relationships are important for many reasons, but they are vital to success as an entrepreneur.

Or, in the words of Ferris Bueller, life comes at you pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.

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