White Guys In Ties

A number of years ago I ran into a photographer whose principal assignment was to take pictures of attorneys for a legal publication. I asked her how she liked her job. She shrugged. "What can I say? White guys in ties."

What can I say? The bar has become much more diverse since that conversation but she was, for the most part, correct. I think it's appropriate, however, to recognize that being one of those "guys"--or now women and not all of us white--isn't all that bad.

I grew up in a town where mostly all of the men did not wear ties to work. Many of them, some in my immediate family, had no more than a high school education or less. For the most part they worked with their hands. At the end of the day you could usually point to something they had done, something that had not been there in the morning when they came to work. The women didn't wear ties, for the most part, even figuratively. Most worked, as we now say, "in the home". Many took in washing, some cleaned houses, and the lucky ones were either nurses or teachers. [In those days, some may recall, women did not have to have a four-year degree to teach; they did, however, have to resign if they became pregnant.]

Lawyers were part of another world. As a general rule you didn't go to lawyers unless there was a real problem, usually of the criminal kind, perhaps a boundary dispute, a will or, heaven forbid, a divorce. I never knew a lawyer growing up and, except for reading about Howard Jacobs in the Register, never knew of a lawyer. I never even knew enough, then, to even want to be a lawyer.

And now, as they say, I are one. Unlike my grandfather who worked in a quarry, or my uncle who was a plumber, or my father who was a shipping clerk, through a stroke of good fortune, I have a profession. I don't go to work carrying a lunch bucket filled with a sandwich wrapped in Cut-Rite wax paper, an apple and a thermos. I don't come home at the end of the day and have to wash the grease off my hands in the sink in the garage with Boraxo. If my bones ache it's because I've stopped off at a gym, not because I was lifting things that were too heavy or pounding other things that were too hard. When I want a haircut I don't have to wait until Saturday morning; I can cut out in the afternoon. If one of my kids has a weekday afternoon sporting event, I can manage to see it, standing in the company of eight or ten other guys, also in ties, who are able to rearrange their appointments or have their secretaries cover for them. And, except when some judge gets persnickety, I take my vacations when I want; I don't have to wait for a factory to close down for the first two weeks in whatever month my boss decides.

I'm a lawyer. I make a living talking to judges and juries, reading books, carrying a briefcase and yapping on the phone. I meet with clients. I offer them my advice. I represent them and try my best to do my best for them. Sometimes I solve their problems. Sometimes I even get them out of trouble so they can go on with their lives. And if I'm lucky, more often than not I get paid for doing this.

There are trade-offs, I guess. There's the pressure of keeping a lot of balls in the air; of trying to make everyone happy or at least only mildly discontent; of pretending to know the answers to questions I'll have to research later; of trying to be in two places at one time; and, especially for those with families, of trying to tend fires simultaneously at home and at the office. And there is always the pressure of potential failure; of not doing your job well; of not delivering for clients who have relied on us and for whom we feel a sense of responsibility to solve problems they have created through their own actions. For those who work in larger firms, who only get to work on small parts of bigger problems, there are the frustrations of not being in control; of office politics and promotion; and of uncertainty.

But the rewards are there. For some it's financial. For others prestige and status. Still others power. And notoriety. And advancement.

What our profession offers, I think, is the opportunity for success, no matter how each individual defines it. And with that, unlike Mick Jagger, the opportunity for satisfaction.

On the whole, if you think about it, who's better than us?