Why Are You Practicing Law in the First Place?

Vol. 31 No. 4


In today’s challenging legal marketplace, it’s all too easy to lose track of what originally sparked your passion for the law. To help refresh your memory—and maybe even your enthusiasm—we asked five lawyers from a variety of backgrounds and at different stages of their careers to share their stories of what first attracted them to the practice of law and how they have incorporated those passions into their practices today.

Works For Me

By Steve Gremminger
Gremminger Law Firm
Washington, D.C.

My dad immigrated to America when he was 17. At first he knew little English, but he worked hard, married well (my mom), and raised a great family. He taught us always to do our best, work hard, be proud of our Swiss heritage, and believe in America. I was the only one among four kids who became an attorney.

Working hard meant graduating from UCLA in three years and earning a master’s degree by age 22. Deciding I wanted to be a lawyer, I attended law school while working full-time for the federal government. After graduating and passing the California State Bar, I joined the Tax Division, U.S. Department of Justice. For the next 13 years I tried almost every kind of federal civil tax case—earning a handful of awards along the way and, before leaving, supervising other DOJ attorneys.

I joined KPMG LLP’s Office of General Counsel in 1994. I became a Principal, Associate General Counsel, and was the primary legal advisor to KPMG’s nationwide tax practice. I loved every minute of the first nine years. Then the U.S. Department of Justice targeted KPMG’s thriving tax shelter business—all the “Big Four” firms developed, marketed, and sold tax shelters, but KPMG did so more aggressively and longer than the rest. Although I never developed, sold, implemented, or marketed tax shelters, I was swept up in a prosecution of 19 current and former tax professionals, mostly from KPMG. I never believed there was any basis for the charges against me, but I was the attorney who was in the room (and often screaming “No”) when the shelters were approved.

For the next three years I worked with my attorney defending myself. Judge Lewis Kaplan of the Southern District of New York ultimately held that the federal prosecutors had violated my constitutional rights to counsel and due process, and he dismissed all charges against me and 12 co-defendants. The Second Circuit affirmed. Students now read the cases in Constitutional Law. Although I would prefer to have not lived that chapter of my life, I got through it and am much stronger for it. The experience also made me a better lawyer.

With all charges dismissed, I started the Gremminger Law Firm in 2007, specializing mainly in tax controversy as well as civil and white-collar criminal litigation.

Clients tell me, “Please work as hard on my case as you did defending yourself against the government.” That is what I try to do for them.

Why am I practicing law? Because I love it, and there is truly nothing else I want to do (reading books and enjoying a cold one at a ballgame is relaxation, not a vocation). The law is often about winning, and I like winning. But being a good lawyer is not always about winning. Practicing law is fundamentally about doing the right thing. Dad had it right: Do your best, work hard, be proud of your heritage, and believe in America. That is why I am practicing law.

Turning Dreams into Reality

By Michael E. Flowers
Vice President/City Executive and Chief Legal Officer
KBK Enterprises
Columbus, Ohio

I became a lawyer because lawyers have the ability to take an American dream and turn it into an American reality. My father and mother dreamed of owning their own business, and a lawyer helped that dream to become a reality.

My first interaction with a lawyer occurred around age 11. My parents decided to incorporate our family-owned trash-hauling business. I remember accompanying my father and mother to the lawyer’s office. I recall asking my father why we needed to incorporate our business. My father explained that by incorporating, we would not lose our house if something went wrong with the business. Even today, when I am asked by start-up business owners about whether they need to incorporate or to form a limited liability company, I skip all of the legal technical talk and just tell that story. So far, not one person has decided to postpone forming some sort of separate business entity for her or his business. There is something about the prospect of losing one’s house that gets their attention.

The combination of growing up working in a family-owned business and having that early interaction with a business lawyer solidified my interest in being a business lawyer myself.

Watching my parents run our family-owned business showed me how entrepreneurship could create opportunities for our family that would not have been available had my father continued to work as an hourly employee. Over time, I saw the role the law played in every aspect of our business. After we incorporated, my parents borrowed money from a bank to purchase a new truck, negotiated with a distributor to acquire a special type of truck body to handle more trash, and hired our first full-time employee. At each of these intervals, contracts and other legal documents were involved.

Over the life cycle of our family business, I saw it grow as we made modest acquisitions of customers from some of our competitors. Ultimately, our family business was acquired as larger and better capitalized organizations entered the previously fragmented trash-hauling business. At each step along this continuum, a trusted business lawyer helped guide our family.

After graduating from law school, I joined a business-focused law firm in Columbus, Ohio, and began to pursue my goal of using the law to help business owners succeed. My passion for small business allowed me to grow a legal practice focused on supporting family-owned businesses in areas such as automobile dealerships, real estate developers, and light manufacturing.

My practice as a business lawyer has been very satisfying. In the business news coverage of most communities, it is often forgotten that most people are employed by employers who are “small businesses” as defined by the U.S. Small Business Administration. Most individuals do not work for the large employers that cities and states seek to entice to locate in their jurisdictions. Consequently, the opportunity to work with the small business owners who drive our nation’s economy continues to be very gratifying.

My life as a business lawyer has also been enriched by my opportunity to serve on the boards of various civic and charitable organizations. Serving on the board of my local hospital system and on the board of my local community college has been a great way to support my community while gaining an opportunity to meet other civic and business leaders. Almost without exception, it has been my experience that most nonprofit organizations are very interested in having a lawyer on their board. Lawyers bring unique problem-solving and managerial skills that are helpful to nonprofit organizations.

Bar association activities have also played a significant role in my legal career. In particular, my involvement with the American Bar Association has allowed me to join in commercial legal reform efforts in six countries on the continent of Africa. Understanding how strong economies are anchored by a clear and predictable legal system, I have eagerly participated in missions aimed at helping developing democracies secure the benefits of modern commercial legal practices as a way to attract foreign investment and trade opportunities.

Our country has been built by the dreams and aspirations of people like my parents and others who through sheer determination, and often with the valuable assistance of knowledgeable lawyers, have been able to turn those dreams into realities.

The Second Time Around

By Kathleen J. Hopkins
Real Property Law Group PLLC
Seattle, Washington

I was asked to write on why I decided to practice law in the first place. Law is a second career for me, so to be correct, I made this decision “in the second place,” not the first. In my pre-law life I worked for the human resources department of a private university. The work was rewarding, the setting was ideal, and my workmates were (and remain) my friends. I enjoyed helping people and our institution through the myriad issues that came across my desk—from collective bargaining to fringe benefits, flex time to student employment, the advent of desktop computing to team-building excursions.

My job afforded me numerous opportunities to work with lawyers and delve into legal issues. While I enjoyed the other aspects of my job, the legal work was the most challenging. My undergraduate degree is a BS in business, and I reached the point where I thought I would pursue an MBA degree. My friends, teachers, and administrators encouraged me instead to consider a law degree, where I could maximize my abilities, expand my educational scope beyond the confines of B-school, and, if need be, use my two degrees to open my own firm and shatter glass ceilings. I took their advice and with my husband and five-year-old son took a great leap across the country to Seattle, where we settled down, bought a house, enrolled our son in kindergarten, and I attended law school.

My law school days are long over, but I recall finding every course interesting. Rather than focus on being a labor lawyer (which had been my initial intent), I ended up sampling a variety of courses and eventually chose to become a business litigator. Being a litigator in a terrific mid-size firm was wonderful, and I kept learning new areas of law and aspects of business while being mentored by wise partners. After seven years, however, I tired of the constant battles and the inability to control my schedule. My older son was starting high school and my younger one starting kindergarten, and I wanted a schedule that allowed me time with my family, to schedule (and actually take) vacations, and to dive more deeply into bar and community service. As many of my case assignments had involved real estate disputes, I harnessed that experience and turned it 180 degrees to focus exclusively on negotiating real estate transactions and financings. More than 12 years ago, three of my best friends and I started our own firm, focusing on complex commercial real estate and personal property transactions.

Every day I am thankful my friends included me in this adventure. My work is interesting and diverse, I have much more control over my schedule, and I am able to use my B-school degree and really maximize my potential. Indeed, I often counsel law students and young lawyers on the importance of focusing on their work setting more than the actual substantive legal area. I really enjoyed my litigation years at a larger firm, but for me, a small transactions practice with challenging, complex work and great colleagues is what I needed, and it is a bonus that I can use my real estate litigation background.

Remembering How to Conduct Yourself Outside Your Practice

By Aastha Madaan
Brownstone Law Group, P.C.
Santa Ana, California

The task of a young attorney starting out on your own or with a small firm can be just as rewarding as it can be daunting. As a young attorney with a small firm, I have a very small group of people on whom I can rely, which means I feel responsible for my clients personally. I am also responsible for bringing in clients—and am constantly getting advice along the lines of, “every person you meet is a potential client”—so it can be difficult to mentally separate work life and personal life. It is my belief that as young attorneys living in a digital world, it is especially important to be mindful of how we conduct ourselves in society.

When interacting with people in a personal or professional networking setting, making it a goal to share information about our practice, instead of trying to land a client, can have a huge impact on our stress levels. It prevents us from potentially turning off a source of referral or a new friend and takes the pressure off because we are not trying to push or force the interaction to a certain outcome.

The other end of the spectrum is being too friendly. We are inundated with different types of social media, such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and so many new ones coming up every day. This combined with the fact that many of our colleagues are also our friends from law school makes it really difficult to draw online boundaries. This means that our actions are memorialized in pictures and online posts, which means we have to monitor our conduct more than our online presence. The perception our clients and colleagues have of us is a consequence of our conduct, not of the filters we put on our online presence.

As the lines between work life and personal life become more and more blurred owing to the accessibility of work during personal life, it becomes even more important for young lawyers to create priorities. Young attorneys, or any young professionals, should strive always to be mindful of our behavior and conduct in our personal and professional networks, and to make our own enjoyment a priority.

A Profession for Every Passion

By Devin R. Lucas
Devin R. Lucas Real Estate
Newport Beach, California

You have to love what you do, and I love the practice of law. It’s one of those great professions that will always serve tremendous (and practical) purposes. Lawyers play an integral role in society and the economy at all levels. The law is intertwined into almost everything: government, private enterprise, real estate, health care, criminal justice. You name it, a lawyer is needed somewhere in the process. Being a lawyer provides amazing opportunities in so many fields.

I entered law school knowing virtually no lawyers, never having set foot in a law firm, with no clear goals as to the type of lawyer I would become—in part, because I knew lawyers were needed in every field I was interested in. I enjoyed entertainment, politics, and a host of other fields, but nothing stood out beyond my overwhelming desire to become a lawyer. I decided law school was a well-justified investment and was confident I wanted to be in the legal profession.

Following some great opportunities in a wide range of civil litigation cases, I now practice almost exclusively in real estate. I love it. I love the fundamental principles behind ownership and investment in real property, the importance of housing and commercial infrastructure, and the business and legal complexities that go into real estate. While I don’t necessarily enjoy the acrimonious disputes that frequently come along with real estate, they provide unique opportunities for the services of a good lawyer. I spend many afternoons touring properties where incidents occurred, disputes exist, or purchase transactions are in the works. I like meeting clients and helping with the practical assistance they need. Like many lawyers, I often become a guidance counselor to my clients for their businesses and/or personal lives. It is a great privilege and responsibility to serve your clients in such a significant role.

Being a solo practitioner, now equal parts businessman and lawyer, I enjoy the demanding schedule of lunches and events, mixers and meetings, and, occasionally, finding time to actually work on those projects! Pick what you love and go in 100 percent. I’m so fortunate to love what I do.


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