With Law Day around the corner this is a good time of year to reflect on our system of justice and what it is we do as attorneys. I choose to let others philosophize about our adversary system, or the “Separation of Powers,” the topic the American Bar Association suggests as this year’s Law Day theme. I am more interested in what it means to be an attorney and how high I remain on the profession I joined twenty-two years ago this month.
I do not look back often. I find myself too busy attempting to move forward to take or find the time to look back. However, as I get older the more there is to look back on, and I find myself reflecting on things more than I ever have before.
I have few regrets. I certainly do not regret my decision to go to law school, to become an attorney or to practice law in Colorado Springs. Are there things I have done or said that I wish I had done differently, not said or said better? Absolutely! On the whole, however, if I could do it again, I wouldn’t take back or change much.
Over the past few years, when I think about our profession, I often think about a conversation I had with a fellow law student while in law school. I struggle to remember anniversaries and birthdays and the names of my kids’ friends, but I remember this conversation — who it was with, when and where it took place, and more or less what was said. If I knew then what I know now about what we do, it would have been a very different conversation indeed.
It was late April, 1984. I was 24 years old and nearing the end of my third-year of law school. I was in the law review office late one night muddling through something — which is what you do on law review. My conversation was with a fellow law review editor. I’ll call her “Phyllis.” Phyllis and I had very different backgrounds. At the time of our conversation Phyllis was about 40. She had put herself through both college and law school, and was about to graduate and become an attorney. In the course of our extended conversation Phyllis told me how excited she was to finally become a lawyer. She also told me what a great accomplishment it was to graduate from law school and to join the legal profession. As I recall, I responded as the 24 year old I was. I told Phyllis exactly what I was thinking — a dangerous habit I am working on breaking. That is, that we were not exactly joining the country’s most exclusive club, since there were already tens of thousands of attorneys practicing law, with more graduating every year. Unable or unwilling to leave it there, I pointed out to Phyllis that, just like us, everyone we knew or associated with at law school would likely be an attorney, and that I did not think it was “any big deal.” The conversation did not end happily.
I regret what I thought and said. Contrary to my statements to Phyllis twenty-two years ago, being an attorney is a “big deal.” Not because we are better then anyone else — which is how I like to think I wrongly interpreted Phyllis’s comments, but because what we do is so necessary and yes, useful.
There would not be so many of us if we were not in demand or if we did not provide a service which is needed and which is worth paying for. I often describe the telephone as my enemy because I cannot get anything done during the day while it is ringing. Of course the ringing phone is pretty good evidence that what we do is important — at least to the people doing the calling.
Whether our clients are people, businesses or governmental entities, we all do the same thing. We serve our clients as advisors, guiders, problem solvers and advocates. As to the latter, isn’t it a privilege to be permitted to represent a client and present their case or position on their behalf?
I often think of us as professional listeners. How often have my business clients figured out a path or a solution to their problem before they meet with me? Pretty often. They come to me to see if they have correctly analyzed the situation and whether their solution is appropriate. I am paid to listen and they hopefully leave confident that their plan or solution is the right one. At other times I hear their story and suggest alternative options. It is no different for practitioners in other areas of the law. We are our clients’ sounding board and their compass. We provide the guidance necessary to allow them to get on with their lives or business.
My faith in all of this is constantly renewed. Other attorneys in my firm and I recently began the process of interviewing new or soon to be attorneys. The enthusiasm, focus and lack of cynicism of those I have interviewed is truly refreshing. I tell them all how proud they should be to be joining our profession. It’s a big deal.
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