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Levison Group Column for August

On occasion, my syndicated column for Under Analysis, a product of the Levison Group, will be found on these pages. Occasionally is like right now!

Make em work for Exxon and Microsoft and Such

You can tell finances are tight here in the Levison Towers. Nothing has been redecorated for the twenty seventh summer in a row. The last new addition to the library is already out of print. And the “refreshments” at the annual Summer Associate mixer were leftovers from political fundraising events. At least, I hope that is where they came from.

Like many sectors of the service industry, things are tight at law firms. Clients are paying later than before- bills that say “due in 30 days” are now ignored for at least 60 days before they are put in the “pay” pile. Those who fear losing clients altogether are not aggressive in collections. The bill merry-go-round is in full whirl.

There was a time when the practices of law and medicine were thought to be THE big wage earning professions. In those days, every daughter was supposed to marry a lawyer or doctor. And when those days passed and all the dinosaurs died off, every daughter was supposed to BE a lawyer or doctor.

The Bard, William Nelson, gave this exact advice to mothers around the globe. He wrote, in his classic poem, “Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys… Make ’em be doctors and lawyers and such.”

According to the United States Department of Labor, however, lawyers are not the big money makers they once were thought to be. In their recently released study tracking data from May 2006, the median annual earnings of all wage and salaried lawyers was $102,470. The middle half of the occupation earned between $69,910 and $145,600. (This came directly from their study- only a gubmint document would quote a statistic for the middle half.)  Doctors have fared a bit better, with a median income of $156,000 to $321,000. Not shabby for either group. On the other hand, mothers ought not discourage budding young cowboys solely on the basis of earning potential.

In a week when Exxon posted record, $12 billion in quarterly earnings, what career should budding Getty’s pursue? (I know that Getty is a bad example here- Exxon made more profit than Getty did when he had an oil monopoly. Sheesh.) I would love to hear your thoughts, Gentle Reader, because I got nothing. I love being a lawyer.

My youngest son asked why I chose to be a lawyer recently. This child, The Inquisitator as we call him, smells fear like a dog smells new socks on a mailman. And fear was in his nostrils when he asked me why I liked being a lawyer.

The truth is that I worked for a state senator in high school, and thought I wanted a career in politics. That dream went out of style for me sometime after the tall socks I wore back then. Politicians spend most of their time fundraising, and I would prefer to eat liver sandwiches than fund raise. The Inquisitator has known me his whole life, but can’t fathom that his father once was young and had aspirations too! The truth would not be good enough for him.

Where to start? Telling him I loved helping people made me sound like a Red Cross volunteer at a disaster site: “Hey, I see your house just got carried away by a flood. Bummer. Care to have me explain the Rule in Shelley’s case?” To a client who is out of work and in pain due to a broken leg from a car crash, it does feel like help when your lawyer calls to say that a rental car is available, and medical bills will get paid.  No way the Inquisitator would accept that representing injury victims in court was as good as being a fireman or something.

I could have told him that I like the intellectual challenge of practicing law. But then again, poring over insurance policies at 8 p.m. on a Friday evening doesn’t feel all that intellectual, really. Neither does crafting brilliant interrogatories to learn the name, rank and serial number of a witness to a long past event. It is slanderous to call it drudgery- to those who thrive on drudgery that is.

Instead, I could feel the sweat beading up on my forehead. I blurted out, “Because I couldn’t get a job as a TV weatherman.”

“Oh,” he said. “Kevin’s dad sells computers. That seems like a good job to me. I want to design video games.” That satisfied, the Inquisitator went back to his video games, which he was in fact designing. I felt relief at first. Then ashamed. Not being able to explain why you do what you do is bad, but when your career depends on your ability to explain things to jurors and other strangers, it is much worse.

I would have liked to explain to my son why exactly I practice law. What I enjoy about it, and that I wouldn’t choose a different career path now, even if I could. TV weather notwithstanding.

I can only hope that when he writes the “Lawyer Man” video game, he gives me a small role somewhere. Preferably with a cowboy hat.

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(c)2008 Under Analysis, LLC. Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group.  Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. If you know of a weatherman opening, please let him know though.  Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent directly to the Levison Group via email at