Volume 20, Number 3
April/May 2003


The Gravity of Practicing Law

By jennifer j. rose

Jennifer j. rose, editor-in-chief of GPSolo, is a lawyer and writer living in Morelia, Michoac√°n, Mexico. She can be reached at jenniferrose@abanet.org.

Practicing law is like being ringmaster of a three-ring circus. There are the clowns, and there are the lions and tigers and bears. And reigning above all that is the tightrope act-the most breathtaking and dangerous part of the whole show.

Just how do the Great, the Fabulous, and the Flying Wallendas and other aerialists manage to fly through the air with the greatest of ease without killing themselves more often? Good balance just isn't enough. Years of practice, top physical and mental condition, working and reworking routines, and knowing the ropes free those flying folks from the safety of nets below. And there's another secret: They practice controlled falls, defying gravity by catching the wire with their hands or feet. Each step is a measured risk, and high-wire performers calculate the odds that the next step will be a safe one. If the probability is about 60 percent that they might fall, they'll initiate a fall that they can control.

Who hasn't considered, at one time or another, a less risky profession-like driving a hazmat-loaded 18-wheeler? Did you know that experienced truck drivers actually know how to avoid riding the brake by selecting one of 18 gears? And that they have to understand road grade, diesel engines, shifting weights of the load-which can vary from strange chemicals to combustible Glenlivet and flammable Beefeater-as well as the geography and fuel tax of each state through which they pass. Truck driving involves a lot more risk than dodging cops and truck-stop cholesterol. And that may well explain why very few lawyers make that career switch.

Practicing law is all about risk management-taking risks, guarding against risk, assessing risk, and managing risk. And lawyers are faced with the constant juggling act of watching out for their clients' best interests as well as their own. Like a tightrope walker, they must constantly gauge each step, trying their best to predict whether a controlled fall is in everyone's best interest. And like a trucker careening downhill with a heavy trailer traveling faster than the tractor, they have to wonder when they might jackknife or have to head for the escape ramp. Those seemingly split-second decisions can only be made with a full understanding of the territory ahead. And guts.

GPSolo challenged Joan Burda, a solo in Lakewood, Ohio, to edit this issue, putting together a range of articles from a diverse team of authors spotlighting various areas of risk to the general, solo, and small firm practitioner. Taking up the dare, she created one of the most exciting issues ever, covering the gamut from insurance to forms of business entities and environmental law, even throwing in a dose of humor. This issue is Joan's work, and we owe her hearty thanks.

From the very serious yet risky business of minimizing clients' business risks to advising a client who just inherited a toxic waste dump, to the touchy issues of whether to settle or go to trial and the issues of malpractice coverage, there is something for every reader, in every practice style and setting, in this issue. And because the improvident use of humor has probably injured more lawyers than handguns, we have even included an article about the use of humor in the practice of law.

Sit back, take your shoes off, find a quiet, risk-free haven, and enjoy this issue of GPSolo. It's the best insurance for the money that you'll find anywhere.

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