The Story of My Life
I was asked to give a "testimony" in church this morning. This is what I said:
As I understand my assignment, I have five to seven minutes to give my testimony on vocation, particularly as it relates to my having retired from my vocation several weeks ago. I won’t even attempt to relate it to the scripture passages, although, if I had 20 minutes, it would be interesting to talk about the fishing story and especially about becoming “fishers of men.”
Both of my sons are way smarter than I am, as demonstrated by oldest son, Jeremy’s, answer some 30 years ago, when he was five or six years old and he was asked by a relative what he’s going to do when he grows up, is he going to be a lawyer like his father. Jeremy considered the question carefully and then said, “No, I think I’ll be a client.”
Jeremy understood, even at that age, something I didn’t grasp in my mid 20s when I decided to go to law school. That is, that the big enchilada; the swizzle stick that stirs the drink; the king of the jungle is not the lawyer, but the client. And, then, of course, even above the king of the jungle is the judge, who, to extend the metaphor too far, is “God.” And, so I spent more than 35 years, trying to please my clients, successfully occasionally; unsuccessfully occasionally, with mixed results usually. It was frustrating to have to argue with clients about what was in their best interests; what the likely outcome of their cases would be, why they should be willing to accept less than the maximum outcome in order not to be stuck with the worst outcome. Most listened; some did not.
As Jeremy noted, even at the age of 5, that involved an awful lot of late nights and weekends, even a number of all-nighters (admittedly some of that was due to my own procrastination,) trying to please the King (and Queen). And, trying to please the even almightier judge. True, I could and did fire some clients, but that is not a way to make a living if you do too much of it. I caught a few fish; a lot got away and a few caught me.
I sued the University of Illinois many times, mainly because I was one of the few lawyers in town so stupid as to try.
I guess at my age, 66 and counting, I would be expected to offer some words of wisdom to the younger generation. Something to help you avoid the mistakes I made. I actually don’t think that works. Everyone has to make their own mistakes. Advice from the elderly goes in one ear and out the other, as it should, because circumstances are different for everyone.
But, being old, I’m going to give you advice anyway. We just can’t help it after we pass 60. Along with the hearing aids and the Depends, we give advice. The first piece of advice is, if you can make a living at it, try to do something you like. I remember going to work, whistling, and thinking, “Man, this is fun.” I remember saying to several people over the last 35 years that making a closing argument to a jury is better than anything– well, anything we can talk about in church. (That isn’t exactly how I said it, but it’s the gist of it.) I won a few of those battles, gloated too much when I did, then bloodied my head in trying again. Not enough wins and too many losses or draws to consider myself a great crusader for justice.
But, I would have gone out much happier if I had made my exit 10 years ago. That’s when it stopped being fun. My head was bloodied from banging it against the wall of injustice; I had become cynical when I saw how often the law was manipulated to protect the powerful and screw the little person. I had fished too often with nothing to show for it in my net except a few little shrimp. So, my second piece of advice (which I fully expect you will disregard, as well, but you really shouldn’t) is quit while it’s still fun.
Everyone asks me what I’m going to do now. (By everyone, I mean Rosalee – and others.) Well, I’m going to be retired. I have worked since I was 13 years old. It’s almost unbelievable that I am getting checks deposited into our bank account for which I don’t have to do anything. It really brings home to me the advantages of being born rich.
After it stops being fun sitting around, I hope to do occasional mediations. That’s when two parties in a lawsuit, usually shortly before the trial, agree to meet with a mediator, with their lawyers present, and try to agree to a mutual resolution they are willing to accept. Amazingly, to me at least, 85 percent of mediations, nationally, are successful, and with really good mediators the percentage is more than 90 percent, approaching 100 percent. I’ve gotten the training; I’ve had lots of experience participating in mediations, now I just need other lawyers to refer appropriate cases to me.
Martin Luther King said in a famous speech that when he is gone he wants to be remembered as a “drum major for justice.” Obviously, my career should not even be mentioned in the same breath at Martin Luther King’s career. But, if someone could just call me a “piccolo for justice,” I would be deeply honored.