Harry Potter: Lessons for Lawyers

This weekend marks the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2. The first Harry Potter book was released in June 1997, and the first movie hit theaters November 2001. Since that time, both the books and movies have enjoyed incredible success. J.K. Rowling’s coming of age story of Harry Potter, “The Boy Who Lived,” has been enjoyed by children and adults alike. The books have kept a generation of children reading, and reminded adults what it’s like to be a kid. But the books and movies also offer numerous life lessons. Several of them are spot-on for any attorney. But before you hit the jump, be warned: some spoilers may be contained within.

Small Steps Can Help Achieve a Large Goal

When Harry finds out that he has to destroy numerous horcruxes hidden all over the world, that is a pretty big task. He accepts the task and sets out on his journey, knowing that it’s a huge goal. But that goal can be broken down into smaller parts. First, figure out how to destroy a horcrux. Then find them one at a time. Simple, digestible goals. A great lesson for many attorneys with seemingly impossible tasks ahead of them.

Think of the last time you set a huge goal for yourself, or had one set for you by a more senior attorney. Maybe it was a change of employment, or mending the relationship with a tough client. Taking end goals like those and breaking them into smaller pieces makes them much more attainable. This is a big part of the Getting Things Done system. Set an end goal, but focus on what you can do right now. You can’t launch into a new law firm overnight. But in the next fifteen minutes you can polish up your resume. The relationship with your estranged client can take a lot of time and energy to fix. Start with returning her phone call, just a small step to help you reach your larger goal.

Rely on Your Support System

Time after time, Potter attempts to save the world or defeat some kind of evil on his own. Yet time and again, he must rely on others. His friends, family, and professors are often ready to help him, yet he does not acknowledge or ask for their help. Admittedly, this is usually because he does not want others to die. But when Potter relies on his support system, things go much smoother. While attorneys are rarely put in such a perilous situation, we often attempt to press ahead on our own. We are either too embarrassed to ask for help, or we just don’t think of it.

Tackling a difficult task on your own can be rewarding, but knowing when to lean on a support system is critical. If you have a brief due about zoning regulations, but know nothing on the subject, ask around at your firm. There could be an unknown resource right next door that can save you hours of time in the law library. This goes for solo attorneys as well. Your fellow solo practitioners, your local bar association, and the American Bar Association are all great places to go for help. As a member on various e-mail lists, I get messages at least twice a month from attorneys around the country asking for assistance in everything ranging from substantive areas of the law to picking a talented expert witness. There are a lot of other attorneys out there ready and willing to help. Take a lesson from Harry and you’ll see how much better things can be with a few allies on your side.

Change Your Opinion of Others

Throughout the books and movies, Harry believes that Professor Snape is his enemy. In fact, Potter often believes Snape is actively trying to harm him. Yet the books reveal time and again that Snape is looking after Harry and trying to protect him. Nonetheless, Harry never really changes his opinion of Snape until the very end of the series. This is a lesson generally aimed at younger audiences, but a terrific lesson for lawyers as well.

It’s never too late to change your opinion of someone. Of course, this is easier said than done. Opinions, especially those based on first impressions, are difficult to change. Don’t close yourself off. If there are attorneys that you practice with that you can’t stand, that’s fine. Just don’t let yourself hate everything they do just because of a few small encounters. When they act admirably or extend a courtesy to you, let it chip away at your poor opinion of them.

Courage in the Face of Certain Defeat

Although Harry is barely out of school, he is burdened with saving the world. He is facing a wizard that is older, more powerful, and incredibly smart. Defeat, as well as Harry’s death, are a near certain conclusion to his quest. Potter walks out the door to save the world anyway.

We all have tough days. Things we don’t want to do. Meetings we dread. There are times when you know that you will get yelled at by your boss, admonished by a judge, or lose a case. But these things have to be done. We can’t shrink away from responsibility. Embrace it, accept it, and just be glad there is little to no risk of dying when you lose.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ittybittiesforyou/3681585561/)

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  • I usually appreciate articles like this. It’s very creative and helpful when you’re able to take something entertaining and popular and be able to apply it to some sort of life lesson. These are great tips and they correlate well with something very entertaining. It’s a good method of grabbing people’s attention and helping them make connections.

  • Mike

    I definitely would have been better off getting my first job assigned to me by a magical hat than by going to “interviews” and “callbacks”.

  • Anne Hansen Gathje

    There’s a good book called “If Harry Potter Ran General Electric: Leadership Wisdom from the World of the Wizards.” If you’re a Harry Potter fan, you’d probably enjoy the leadership/ethics/business lessons the author draws on from Harry, Dumbledore, and other HP characters. Admittedly, I only read part of the book, because then law school finals got in the way. I’ve graduated and have been practicing for three years, but it’s one of the few books still on my shelves. I’ll finish it one of these days ….

  • I love this blog post. I am continually impressed by how Harry Potter books, which began as a children’s only franchise, was able to expand and offer serious and important life lessons in a variety of areas. Even law, as you describe above. :) Thanks for the post!

  • Wow, I loved this article, not only because I practice law, or even because I have become a huge HP fan (even though I am very far behind, since I have insisted on making my kids let me read the books to them out loud, and they get mad, understandably, if I read ahead).

    But it also struck a chord with me because Josh’s insights are very similar to the kind of approach to ethics CLE that a buddy and I take at ReelTime CLE . There is, indeed, much practical insight for lawyers to gain from well-made movies–including films with no lawyers at all, and featuring wizards (or even superheroes) .