Anniversaries tend to sneak up on us, at least on the males of the species. This might explain why it just dawned on me that this month heralds a quarter of a century that I have been a lawyer.
Working as a practicing lawyer, let alone as a sole practitioner, has never been easy, and it continues to become more challenging every moment. Demands on our time, competition, a more discerning consumer, and the push back of the corporations and insurance companies, all affect the ability of a lawyer to make a living in this profession.
TECHNOLOGY MAKES THE PRACTICE OF LAW EASIER...OR NOT
Technology, at least in theory, makes our job easier. It has turned this profession (as well as many others) into nearly 24/7 "on call" jobs. Before, there was the stress of the unanswered phone call. Now, we have added texts, emails, and faxes to that, along with the duty to stay current on social media, both personal and professional, and write blog articles regularly.
When I began practice in 1990, I still dictated into a mini tape recorder. At one firm, when the secretaries came back from apparently eventful lunches, the work product was often unrecognizable. Fax machines were relatively new and frightening, complete with beeping noises, paper that curled up into scrolls, and ink and toner that usually lasted at least a few days. Phone messages were taken by hand in pen, meaning that often you called back the wrong person at the wrong number unless you could decode your phone messages and knew the creator's handwriting.
Shortly thereafter, some idiot invented things called pagers, which allowed us to receive messages from our bosses telling us to run back to the office to do something as soon as we were done running around the dozen or so courtrooms. It also let drunk people call us on Friday nights about cases that were not cases to any of the 25 lawyers they had called that evening. Cell phones allowed us to return these pages forthwith, meaning we could waste time even more efficiently than previously.
Then the Internet was created (no Al Gore jokes!). Complete with eerie dial up modem noises (it took me several months to realize you could actually turn the volume off), we could surf the Net at a speed that was equivalent to a very old and sick carrier pigeon.
Now we can try a case from our phone or I-Pad, share oodles of information with the push of a button, and scan documents and type right on them.
HAS BEING A LAWYER REALLY CHANGED IN 25 YEARS?
I have always prided myself on my ability to explain the legal process to clients, respond to their questions, and manage my workload efficiently. The life of a trial lawyer has always been stressful and difficult and nothing about that has changed. Our time is constantly too little, the demands on it too great, and our desire for perfection inherent. We want to do well for our clients and we want to earn a living doing it.
Communication is still the linchpin of the practice. Talking, writing, calling, emailing, and faxing are ways in which this is accomplished, but the more things change, the more they have stayed the same.
I am in a people-centric business, and fortunately, that has not changed. My favorite moments are shaking hands with a satisfied client (I've even gotten a few hugs over the years), often being able to hand them a sizeable check for the settlement of their injury or workers' compensation case. Sure, the money is how I eat, but the satisfied look in their eyes is why I do this.
- Twenty-five years. A quarter century. Fifty years old. I look at those numbers and wonder how that all applies to me, but it does. My hairline confirms it. I have been at this for a long time. I'm curious and sometimes daring enough to take chances. Those chances work out well sometimes, and other times not so much. But it has never been dull and I have never loved being a lawyer more. I sincerely hope to write another one of these commemorating yet another milestone of practice (although something tells me my wife will force my retirement at some point).
Many thanks to my many friends, family members, and clients, both past and present, who have made this all possible. Here's to all of you. Thank you!