Volume 3, Number 1 • November 2004

 The Old Man’s Words of Wisdom

“I don’t want to be a lawyer any more.”

“I would never go into law again.”

“I tell my kids never become a lawyer.”

The longer a lawyer practices, the more you hear these comments. And you hear fewer and fewer comments like “ I love the law and couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”

We’ve all heard those comments, whether we’ve been practicing 5 months or 50 years. The cacophony seems always present. Why the two divergent viewpoints? And why do you hear these comments more the longer a person practices?

As part of the group that couldn’t imagine doing anything but practicing law, I think it is because being a lawyer is hard work. It is a career in which you never master everything. You must grow constantly, but I think it is more important that when you practice you have fun in the law occasionally. That’s something they don’t talk about in law school or the profession generally.

We talked about legal research, trial techniques, and writing and arguing legal theories, but going through law school we didn’t talk about how practicing law can be fun. As lawyers we don’t talk about taking a case because of a novel theory or because it interests us, but rather we talk about making money. Maybe periodically during each of our careers we need to take a pro bono or what I call a “fun” case just so we can get excited about the law again.

I did that recently when I represented a senior citizen who felt that she should not have to shovel snow off her sidewalk just because she had a sidewalk, while her neighbors without sidewalks did not have to shovel. While the decision is still pending before the judge, it was uplifting to argue the Constitution like I did during breaks at law school. Equal protection and due process were basic points in my argument. What was the town’s rational basis for their ordinance to have my client shovel a footpath just because she had a concrete walkway, while her neighbor only had a grass one? Then again, trying a case without calling a “sidewalk” a sidewalk got comical as I at various times referred to “it” or “footpath” or “walkway.”

Needless to say, it was the talk around the courthouse, and the local paper played up this “big” case. More important, though, it got me more excited about a case than in a long while. Looking back over my 26-year career, when I got discouraged about the law, somehow I always seemed to take a case, not for the money, but for the challenge and the fun of it.

Getting bored in the law? Try a fun case!

—William G. Schwab, now learning the law for more than 27 years

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