Stephen Shi (J.D. 1977)
Private Practice, Environmental Law
Mr. Shi is currently a solo practitioner focusing on environmental, safety, land use and zoning, military and veterans, and employment law, as well as operating his own business as a firearms instructor. His clients are small companies and municipalities who hear about his business primarily through word of mouth. Before Mr. Shi began his own practice, he was a Judge Advocate in the Marines and was a partner in small, medium, and large law firms. He became interested in environmental law in the early 1980s when the field was just becoming a discrete area of practice. His firm didn’t have anyone practicing in this area, so Mr. Shi formed the practice group there that eventually grew to 14 lawyers at its height. As the field matured, it became glutted with lawyers, so Mr. Shi diversified his practice to include land use and zoning matters and corporate work for small businesses.
Concerning the practice of law, generally, Mr. Shi believe that it is increasingly “like a mild acid bath that will erode your values, self-esteem, family and anything else really important in life if you are not very careful to avoid the many temptations and pitfalls that are inherent in the profession.” Law schools traditionally do little or nothing to prepare students for the sobering reality that lawyers have the highest rates of depression, substance abuse and suicide than any other professionals. Mr. Shi watched a superb and highly regarded large Atlanta firm self-destruct due to greed in a process that would have rivaled Mao Tse Tung’s “Great Leap Forward” complete with a “little red book” perversely entitled “True Professionalism.” The ruthlessness of the managing elite was such that one partner in the Washington, D.C. office killed himself at his desk after being terminated. If such a class on “life as a lawyer” were offered that told about the dangers as well as the benefits of being a lawyer, Mr. Shi would suggest that students take it. There are myriad studies from other state bars and similar organizations that quantify the extent to which practicing law can be debilitating if not managed very carefully.
Mr. Shi’s advice to law students and recent graduates trying to get internships and jobs is to know yourself. Take the time to really think through what you enjoy and find fulfilling. Then seek jobs that will allow you to do those things. There is no amount of money that makes it worth being miserable in your practice. When it comes to interviewing, you should be selective and know as much as possible about the firms with which you are interviewing.