Champagne Corks, Mickey Mantle & Muskets
On my office wall, I have a photo from the day I was sworn in as an attorney. Standing in my newly purchased off the rack suit, I am beaming with joy as I shake the hand of the Chief Justice. I have this wide eyed look on my face as if I had just met Mickey Mantle, Eddie Van Halen and Santa Claus all at once. I had made it through law school, passed the grueling bar exam and now stood poised to defend the Constitution. The knot of my tie is askew as I had not yet mastered the technique that would soon become my daily routine. I remember the pride in my mother's face and wishing my late grandfather could have been there to share the moment. I had worn his cuff links to mark the occasion. For my father, if I couldn't play centerfield for the Yankees, becoming an attorney was the next best thing. It was one storied pinstriped suit over another.
The Chief Justice was approaching his retirement and he wanted to impart some wisdom on this current crop of barristers. In his closing remarks, he suggested we pop open a bottle of champagne to mark our entrance into an exclusive and noble profession. He warned that there would be days our new found responsibilities could wear us down. "Save the cork from the bottle and take it out from time to time to remember this day. It can help you through the trying days." At the time, I didn't pay much heed to his words. Trying days? Are you kidding me? I just finished law school and passed the grueling bar exam. When do I get my BMW? In the end, I did follow the judge's suggestion. I saved the cork from the champagne bottle and threw it in my office desk amidst a clutter of paper clips, notepads and aspirin. For the most part I forgot about the cork as it traveled deeper into the uncharted recesses of my desk.
As time wore on, I thought less of my swearing in ceremony and more about billable hours. There never seemed to be enough hours in the day. As I worked on building my law practice, I began missing the important things in life. Birthdays, family outings and my nephew's football games fell by the wayside. Who was playing first base for the Yanks? What new movies were out? Did my "weekend" clothes go out of style? There were more than a few days where the stress of the job wore me thin. Deadlines, court appearances, bills, curmudgeonly clients...it was enough to drive anyone crazy. As a new attorney, I made the mistake of taking every case personally. If a client was facing jail time, I spent the night worrying about how the client and his family would handle incarceration. If I did an immigration case, I worried that the slightest mistake could lead to a family being deported and lives would be ruined. If I defended a speeding ticket for a relative, I wondered how their insurance rates would be affected. How could I attend family outings if Uncle Frank's insurance rates went up? I was always exhausted after work, especially on days with court appearances.
It was game time. Another day of law practice. The first up to bat was an irate man (let's call him Moe) who demanded my firm take his case otherwise he would have no choice but to report us to the local newspaper. Moe wanted to sue his boss for slander. Apparently pimple faced "Corey" the night manager called him a "slacker" in front of "Corey" the fry cook. The second visitor (let's call him Larry) wanted to legally change his last name to "Budweiser" in order to sue the beer behemoth for millions of dollars for name infringement. The third guy (let's call him Curly) dragged his elderly mother into the office with him. He convinced the poor woman that she should sue his father for child support. Mind you Curly was 48 and still lived in his mother's basement. His parents divorced during the Reagan years. Wonderful. The bases were loaded. Batting cleanup...my beloved family.
Cousin "Shemp" felt that our bloodlines entitled him to endless accommodation work. He was uncle "Curly Joe's" kid and often felt that the world was conspiring to get him. The kind of guy that would make sure there were actually two scoops of raisins in his box of Raisin Bran. Shemp had resolved to sue his neighbor because of the perceived lopsided way the poor man mowed his lawn. Surely this was the cause of the decreased value of Shemp's property and not the rusty Lincoln on cinder blocks in his driveway. What happened to defending the constitution? When did my life become an endless Saturday Night Live skit?" Why had the stars aligned against me? My eye started to twitch. I politely excused myself and began searching for the civil war musket we had as evidence from one of our uncivil litigation matters. As I ransacked my desk looking for something to load the musket with, I stumbled across the champagne cork from my swearing in ceremony. The faint smell of the cork immediately brought me back to that happy day.
I realized that I was lucky to be in a position to help these people, no matter how nutty they were. For every nightmare client, I had twenty appreciative ones. People who turned to me for help and were grateful for doing so. I regained a little of that magic from my first day as a lawyer. That wonderful anxiety of what it would be like to practice law. I put down the musket and pulled out a legal pad. "OK, who's next?"