There are dozens of songs written about time—not having enough, boredom, seizing the opportunity. Everything from “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” by Chicago (which is about oh, so much more than time) to The Ramones “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue” (which is about boredom, and some of the wild things people did to occupy themselves before they had smart phones to do the trick).
But no one really writes songs about lawyers or the time they spend practicing law. The only “lawyer song” I think of is Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” with its immortal lyrics, “Send lawyers, guns, and money.” Lawyers could at least have helped to get him out of his mess!
Why am I thinking about time so much lately? Because I’ve been a lawyer now for 31 years.
Speaking of songs that are appropriate for me on this occasion, the Talking Heads’ Once in a Lifetime springs to mind. Most days, I have a hard time believing how fortunate I am to have this great life. I get to help injured people and their families get compensated. I’m my own boss, I keep my own schedule, I never compromise my morals or ideals, and my work investment has a direct impact on my success.
It was not always so wonderful. Early in my career, I worked for others. That meant being beholden to their whims, their hours, their clients, and their compensation schemes. It also meant that all the investment of work benefitted someone other than me.
In many ways, it was hard to see the forest for the trees, since I spent a dozen hours a day grinding through my caseload, court appearances, phone messages, motions, trials, and arbitrations that I rarely got to watch a case from start to finish. I definitely didn’t get to give clients the personal attention they deserved or get to really know them as I would have liked to.
I barely understood the process of how clients got in the door in the first place, nor did I truly fathom how much effort a case required to obtain a favorable result. I did not have skin in the game. I was an employee. I got a paycheck whether I won or not. Granted, it was not a very sizeable check. My first salary as a lawyer was $23,100 a year. I’m not sure what the $100 was for, but it was gone before I ever got to see it!
After working at another firm, I finally went solo in 1996. It was a struggle. But eventually I began to earn a living. A fortunate Yellow Pages ad (if you don’t know what that is, Google it!) featuring a photo of me not only with a full head of hair but also smiling garnered me enough business that I actually started building a practice.
However, economic realities, such as the cost of litigation and the costs of investing in bad cases led to a downturn. I began to practice law not out of love but purely to stay afloat. That led to burnout. I jumped ship, gave up my practice, went to grad school at night, and went to work for Chicago Public Schools as a high school and middle school teacher. I would never trade those five years I worked for CPS, but I began to get the legal bug again over the summers when I handled legal matters for friends. I even did some work in the evenings after school. I yearned again for the freedom (and the pressure) of working for myself.
After half a decade away, I had to rebuild all my contacts. I had to re-learn how to market myself since Yellow Pages was supplanted by this newfangled thing called the Internet by 2007. And for the first few years, my wife and I starved. Not literally. But my practice was not exactly turning a profit.
My being a Spin instructor kept me in grocery money at least. And my wife took care of our insurance through her job. In fact, without her moral and financial support, there’s no way I would have ever been successful. I owe her everything!
That was 14 years ago. I’ve had my best years ever as a lawyer in that time period (along with some truly lousy ones). But to have my own firm, a reputation for producing quality work, taking great care of my clients, and a wonderful wife, home, dog, and cat, to say nothing of lots of bicycle-related paraphernalia, I pinch myself (“Pinch Me” by The Barenaked Ladies) daily in disbelief that this fortunate life is really mine and I actually built it—because of the clients who trusted me to help them.
Like I said, it was not a linear journey. Much of it was a bit of luck and good fortune. And yes, I am extremely privileged to have been born into an educated, middle-class, and yes, white family. The racial disparities of wealth and opportunity are real. I am thankful for my good fortune, and the ability to use it to help others.
As I write this, I sit in an old pair of khakis with white socks. I haven’t worn a suit or tie in several months. This week, I had two “dress up” occasions that got cancelled at the last minute, so at least I was thinking about dressing like an adult, it just didn’t happen.
Hooray for three decades plus a year practicing law! Life is a journey, and I have savored every moment of how I got here. Thank you to everyone who has been part of this wild ride. As a wise man once sang, “What a long, strange trip it’s been.” I hope that I have made it better for you, as you have for me.
As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, if you have been hit by a vehicle, immediately get medical treatment, report the crash to police and your own insurance company, and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as bicycle accidents or pedestrians hit by cars. If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737.
Stephen has over 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce. Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything up front, and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day; contact Stephen now.