By Spencer Farris for the nationally syndicated column Under Analysis
I am a proud member of the legal profession. The profession has traditions and responsibilities, and honorable lawyers take those seriously.
Lawyers complete a lot of school. Grade school, high school, college and then either law school or a break from school for a turn in the school of hard knocks, followed by law school. While this is the most common path to the law, there are also folks with multiple degrees prior to heading to law school. These paths have one thing in common- summer breaks.
Lawyers quickly lose the wild-eyed sense of freedom that comes with summer break. We really only know that summer is here because of the huge influx of summer intern applications, followed by an influx of young law people in the office and court house. Like monarch butterflies going wherever it is that they go, summer interns predictably descend on the legal profession for summer.
The migratory influx of summer interns is paradoxical. Big supply meets little demand for real work. For lawyers, summer work is hampered by vacations that can slow trial practice to the pace of a non-summer morning commute to court. It is tough to schedule depositions or motion practice when opponents are out of town. On top of that are the golf outings, baseball games and dealing with vacationing offspring that take lawyers out of the office. Less trial work is being done, but there are a lot of fresh intern faces wanting to get a look at it or assist in some way.
I know of vacations only anecdotally as I haven’t taken a long vacation in years. Ten years, if you believe my wife who reminded me that we hadn’t had a weeklong vacation since we got married. My response that my last vacation got me a wife and loss of half interest in my worldly possessions was not well received. If I intend to stay healthy there will be a vacation in my future.
As we approach the end of the summer “break,” those going back to school have a different look in their eyes. Gone is the excitement and freedom and in its stead is a look of dread. Think inmate walking into prison, at least if you ask the students. This is offset by the glee of parents who know their young will be gone and at least some free time will return to the house.
Within the group dreading the end of summer is a subset you can easily pick out from fear and anxiety mixed with the dread on their faces. The freshmen. Recently, others have noticed a similar look on my face.
Familiarity removes the fear of the unknown from the faces of sophomores, juniors and older lawyers. We know our way around the usual places and what to expect when we get there. There may be unexpected events, but the familiarity of the places and faces is a comfort.
As a middle aged law guy, I feel like a freshman again. I meet new and younger looking lawyers every time I go to court, and that happens more often than it used to.
Even the court houses have changed. Two of the bigger ones where I practice now label the courtroom doors with room numbers instead of the division numbers we used to seek out. I initially thought this was done simply to baffle experienced lawyers and give younger lawyers an edge- they show up in court on time and fresh while we older lawyers are frazzled from trying to get to the right room and still be early.
The real reason had to do with the judges being shuffled around while court rooms were updated, one of the presiding judges told me. My inner conspiracy theorist still believes there was a seminar somewhere and this new approach to court room labeling was sold as what all the cool kids were doing. The seminar I envision was taught by someone with a young lawyer in the family and a secret desire to give Junior an advantage.
As if finding the court room isn’t vexing enough, we older lawyers see unfamiliar faces from the bench. Some are younger, a few are our classmates or peers. The older I get, the more new judges I meet.
Some of these new judges replaced retiring jurists that were on the bench before I began my practice. To be sure, I celebrate the retirement of some of them more than others. Older judges were quick to put me in my place as a young lawyer. Either their patience was short or my skill and knowledge were lacking and they didn’t hesitate to tell me when I had said or done the wrong thing. In open court.
Over time, those embarrassments became fewer and farther between. I learned what each judge expected and preparation was less stressful. The influx of new judges has replaced that comfort with an unsettling uncertainty of the unknown.
It has also added some excitement to the day. I don’t fear a public dressing down anymore, but wonder when another lawyer is going to get one, for all to see. Kind of like going to a stock car race, the anticipation of someone (else) crashing adds electricity to the proceedings.
Like it did after all my other freshman years, this feeling will soon pass. But until it does I will keep my head on a swivel, triple proofread my briefing and pleadings, and hope I don’t get crammed in a locker or sent to the principal’s office. I mean jail.
© 2017 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. He hasn’t been a freshman, new or young in a long time. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent directly to Under Analysis via email.