Volume 10, no. 1
When All I Wanted Was a Winter Tan
By jennifer j. rose
I’ll never forget that moment. A famous lawyer was speaking at a CLE program during a Chicago blizzard. My two-year-old solo practice fared well enough so that I could fly to Chicago, stay in an expensive hotel, and pay a hefty registration fee. I had the requisite Burberry, but something was missing. As I listened to the famous lawyer speak, I thought, “What does he have that I don’t?” Age, wisdom, experience, fame, money—and a winter tan. Realizing that everything else took many years, I knew the winter tan was within my short-term grasp. A genuine winter tan—the kind had from basking a week on a Mexican beach—became my grail. The very next January, I sported my winter tan, a badge that I was successful enough to take a week off. In a very small way, I knew I’d arrived.
Confess. You didn’t become a lawyer only out of some burning thirst for justice. You became a lawyer because it sounded like a respectable way to make a decent living without getting your hands dirty.
The race for badges of achievement began on the first day in law school. Today’s law students arm themselves with technotoys more costly than my first new car. Even after passing the bar and snagging that first job (or hanging out your own shingle), the quest for those necessary luxuries, which marks success as lawyers, continues. Those little perks make us work more effectively, we insist. There’s no question that lawyers are carrot-driven. What color is your carrot?
A Hermes tie or scarf, Gucci loafers (or a Gucci purse), a Mont Blanc pen, a leather Filofax bearing sheaves of paper printed in England, a Rolex, and the New York Times bestseller in hardback were signs that the eighties lawyer was headed in the right direction. Sometimes that direction led to places like Machu Picchu.
Just as the once prized American Express Gold Card morphed from Platinum to a simple Black Centurion, status symbols fall out of style. Lawyers’ needs change as they and their careers mature.
Some lawyers reach that anti-status moment, successful enough to enjoy the freedom to downscale, of course with the right symbols: an old Volvo, a pickup truck, loafers without socks, generic clothing from K-Mart, a sweater raveling at the cuffs. Oddly enough, these folks always have far better electronic equipment than everyone else, rarely so downscale that they’d be caught dead toting around a Kaypro II portable computer.
But not all’s purely material. For many who didn’t have time during law school or early practice years, “I’ve made it” can mean taking a weekday afternoon off or carving out time to learn and practice new skills completely unrelated to the practice of law, whether it’s rappelling, basket-weaving, or singing in a choir. Or it can be the luxury of serving others—not necessarily performing pro bono legal work but working with a fund drive or manning a charity carnival booth.
jennifer j. rose, editor-inchief of GPSolo, lives in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico, where she no longer craves a winter tan.