Public Service Why Not President?
Young lawyers are often advised that public service is a way to gain community recognition and, just maybe, attract clients. Some lawyers think that being politically active will do the trick. Better yet, why not run for public office? Get your picture in the newspaper, get invited to meetings (with many potential clients), get to introduce yourself and charm strangers.
Let me tell you the tale of one such lawyer, your humble author. He has always been active in the Democratic Party, so one year he was asked to serve on the Atlanta City Council. He overcame his natural reticence and agreed. When a newspaper interviewed him and asked what other office he might desire, he flippantly said, "Why not president?"
At first it was good. Then came endless council meetings, some lasting six hours, and committee meetings. The Public Works Committee was a blast, talking about sewage disposal. And there were complaints from constituents about the neighbor’s barking dog or "My garbage wasn’t picked up on time." (Like I was going to do this myself?) There were civic club meetings—you haven’t lived until you’ve repeatedly heard the same routine. Sometimes, you were invited to new business receptions—at least you got beverage and some food. But you were also likely to be targeted with questions about city services.
And your law practice? Half your time was spent on public service and half on your practice. The City Council paid 10 percent of what your law practice produced—so 50 percent of your time for 10 percent of the income! Your law partners start to wonder whether you were carrying your weight.
True, occasionally you were hired to represent someone, but there was always the concern about conflict of interest: Am I taking this case because I want to please a constituent? The only real reward was a sense of contributing to the community.
There were other "rewards" after leaving office. People knew your name. (Some still do!) The city contacts you made helped you rezone some very substantial developments, which helped you finance four college educations. Later, you helped shape up the taxicab industry as head of the Atlanta Taxicab Commission.
I still keep the badge the chief of police gave me. It is in my wallet alongside my "Chuck Driebe for City Council" campaign button. These remind me of the glory I once had (the police badge) and to never do this again (the campaign button)!
Chuck Driebe, editor-in-chief of SOLO, has a general practice in Jonesboro, Georgia. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.