Next week marks 25 years since I became a lawyer. That is about the same amount of time that I have not been a lawyer. If you throw in 4 years as a legal assistant at Prudential-Bache Securities, I have been practicing law longer than I have not. If you add the years of dreaming about the law, or carefully plotting the things that would set me apart, well, I’ve been a lawyer for my whole life.
It started as a child, when my grandmother announced that I would “make a great lawyer someday.” It took twenty years for me to realize she meant it as an insult. But, at the time, it felt like the greatest compliment I could get. A lawyer. Attorney. Consigliere. Counselor. Advocate. Advisor. Councilor. Mouthpiece. Name me a profession with so many titles. Yes, yes. I know about the underbelly: Liar. Ambulance-chaser. Dirty shirt. Fee-chaser, loudmouth, shark, shingle, shyster, slicker, snipe. I know Shakespeare wanted to kill all the lawyers. I know how so many people see us. I didn’t care. I was going to change all that. I had big dreams and an even bigger mouth.
I’ve met with some amazing successes. My client list over the year reads like a Fortune article. I’ve won all of my dozens of trials. I’ve helped the downtrodden. I’ve given back. I’ve lost sleep over the treatment of many litigants. I’ve spent a quarter of a century not only practicing law but trying to perfect it. Not for myself; for everyone.
I’ve also had failures. I’ve made mistakes. And, I made some powerful enemies. Alienated equally powerful friends. I have stepped on toes. Heck, I’ve broken toes. Often deserved. Sometimes not. Let me explain.
About 4 years ago, I suffered what I describe as professional mental break. After decades of following every rule, every law, of meticulously taking care to never lie, cheat, or steal, I had the misfortune of litigating against 3 adversaries. In a row. Each, more unscrupulous, dishonest, and evil as the last. Coming in, I was cocky. Even arrogant. These guys will never prevail. They will never succeed. As long as I stick with the Law and the Rules, justice will prevail. But, it didn’t. Three times in a row. These liars won. Maybe not in the end, but along the way. It became impossible to explain to clients. It was, literally, outright fraud on the Court. In one case, the Judge concluded on the record that my adversary had lied. Then punished me for trying to impose sanctions on the liar. I locked myself in my room for a week. I couldn’t eat or breathe. What was this? Do cheaters prosper? Is the system broken?
I don’t have a happy ending. I changed that week. I became angry at everyone. I lashed out. I lost friends who couldn’t understand why I was so angry and did not care enough to ask.
But, I had no choice. The law was all I know. All I ever cared about. So, instead of retreating, I decided to fight even harder. Instead of treating the profession as a personal step stool, I was going to redouble my efforts to dedicate myself to the rules. To cultivate a generation of young lawyers who would succeed in the practice. It mattered. And, I am proud of my accomplishments over a quarter-century. Here is a thumbnail:
• I have never lied, cheated, or stole. I have never even been accused of lying, cheating, or stealing.
• I have never prejudiced a client once. I have never been sued or accused of malpractice. Indeed, I take my client relationships very seriously. I never charge them for any communications, calls, emails, texts, or meetings between us. So, I end up “donating” hours every day, just talking to clients. Not just corporate clients. But, individuals who are scared, worried, angry, etc. I counsel them. I advise them.
• I get calls weekly from locals. They need me to assist, pro bono, with some legal problem for someone down on their luck. Someone who cannot afford a lawyer. Someone with a real problem. I take EVERY single call. I sit/meet with every one of them. For hours. I give advice, counsel, suggestions. And, if need be, representation.
• I have never been accused of or engaged in any conflict of interest.
• I have never been accused of or otherwise interfered with the administration of justice. I am very proud of my spotless record with the court. If anything, I am a cheerleader for prompt, efficient, and fair process. I care less about winning than I care that civilians feel that they were treated fairly and equally. I fight every case for that.
• For every hour that I bill a large institutional client, I spend an hour working pro bono for the less fortunate. I have helped charities, orphans, widows, the unemployed. I devoted a ton of time helping an organization that supports abused women.
• I have never once turned down a client because they could not afford me.
• I have publicly served on charitable boards – – providing legal advice and guidance.
• I have publicly served local municipalities (as prosecutor, recreation board, zoning board). Towns have issued statements about my integrity and service. They have endorsed me for public office. I have letters from municipalities speaking to my integrity and service.
• I have never been disciplined. I have never been the subject of an ethics grievance from any client, court, judge, adversary, associate, partner, female, or colleague.
• I have never been the subject of a fee arbitration. Or any fee dispute. I have never been the subject of court sanctions, or even threatened by any court with sanctions.
• Long before the judiciary mandated better exposure for associates, women, and minorities, I permitted young associates to take depositions, argue dispositive motions, and question witnesses at trial. Then, I sat with them for hours reviewing their performance.
• I have fought for the integrity and love of this profession for my whole life. I have constantly worked to make lawyers look good and to ensure honesty in the profession.
I hope you noticed. In summarizing the high points of my career, I did not mention a single lawsuit. A single client. A single courtroom success. Those things are important. They will determine one’s course in law. But, if you do not have a broader love for and commitment to the law, you don’t have anything. I do not know what the next 25 years have in store for me. I am taking it one-year at a time. This one will see one son become a man and the other become a husband. It will see one daughter move into business school with an epic academic record. The other daughter will head off to her gap year in Israel. It will be my 20th anniversary in my house and my 25th anniversary as a lawyer. It will celebrate my 24th anniversary of marriage to my best friend and the love of my life. There will be missteps. Mistakes. And sorrow. But, I’ve learned my lesson. I will never ever stop defending those with no voice. I will never stop trying to improve my profession and my own practices. It’s been a great ride so far.