“Transitioning from Middle Age Lawyer to Grumpy Old Man” from the nationally syndicated column Under Analysis
The weather is in flux here at the Levison Towers. Skip Harvey, the maintenance man, has been here long enough to be unflummoxed by the whole ordeal. Although temperatures have dropped about 20° in the Midwest seemingly overnight, the heating and cooling system at the Towers are not nearly as responsive. Those of us who know better wear jackets over short sleeve shirts. Newcomers call Skip to complain. They invariably get his voicemail and no response.
While the weather is a welcome change, the change I have noticed in my life lately is not nearly so welcome. I have become a grumpy old man.
As a young lawyer I would routinely show up to court just in time for a docket call. As my practice has expanded into more rural areas I have learned that if I am not fifteen minutes early to court, I’m ten minutes late. Much of my newfound punctuality was learned the hard way. I’ve shown up on a couple of docket calls at 9 o’clock, only to learn that the matter has been resolved by 8:30.
This is not a practice unique to rural judges either. I remember when my sons were very young and I showed up ten minutes late during a jury trial due to a spit up/suit and tie collision. The judge greeted me with, “Ah, Mr. Farris. I was just researching the court’s ability to hold a lawyer in contempt for arriving to court late.” To this day I am not certain if he was kidding.
Somewhere in the last ten years I have started allotting an hour to make thirty minutes of travel. While this serves me well if there is unexpected traffic, it usually results in me sitting in an empty courtroom early in the morning. This isn’t such a burden as it allows me to catch up on my email, Angry Birds, and the latest gossip in the legal community. I have learned more about the week’s docket from morning conversations with a court clerk than from any law bulletin.
When my opponent is a fellow grumpy old lawyer we have an opportunity to work out whatever disagreements we have. When the court has a “first-come first-served” policy it lets me be first on the docket. For a plaintiff’s lawyer on a contingency fee waiting is done pro bono. Even though my defense counterparts bill for their time, I think it is rude to waste it. When I realize that I’m going to be late somewhere, I break into a sweat. When I arrive late, I break into an apology.
This has spilled over into my nonlawyer life. I arrive at the airport early. I show up to plays and sporting events early. Much to the chagrin of my young wife who is occasionally fashionably late but never early. Since she married me when I was still Somewhat Young Lawyer Dude, I am certain that Grumpy Old Lawyer Man is a frequent disappointment.
Last week I showed at 8 o’clock for an 8:30 docket – much earlier for court than even I had planned. My opponent showed up late. Not “on time” late. Not a couple of minutes “fashionably” late. Truly late. So much so that I wound up at the back of a docket rather than the front.
Without question, mistakes happen. My young opponent did not begin our meeting with an apology however, as this was no mistake. Unbeknownst to him I had been doing a slowburn since about 8:29.
As Middle-Aged Lawyer Man, I try to be a Zen about the way things happen. Even sleights should be quickly forgiven. On this day my quest for Zenness failed.
The young lawyer said something about my unprofessional attitude. This set me off into a tirade which either began or ended (perhaps both) with the statement that one who drags themselves into court late with no excuse has a much different idea about professionalism than do I.
To my credit, I caught myself mid-tirade and stopped. We worked out our differences that morning and left the courthouse no worse for the wear. While I refrained from raising my voice throughout the exchange, my blood pressure wasn’t nearly as cooperative.
When I came back to the office that day I was still upset. Not with the young lawyer but with myself. When did punctuality become more important than forgiveness? For that matter, when did punctuality even become important?
I’m still young enough to be mindful of the transition that is occurring in me. I will fight it off as long as I’m able, AARP or not. In the meantime, I ask for patience from my fellow lawyers. And stay off my lawn.
©2013 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. He is not eligible for AARP membership. Yet.