Friday, March 06, 2009

Mid-forties

The Albany Lawyer will shortly enter his mid-forties. Oh, that's me. Maybe age causes you to talk about yourself in the third-person. Remember Bob Dole? If not, you're either very young or really getting old.

Anyway, so far the 40s aren't going so badly. Well, maybe the world economy is going in the tank, so that's not so great. But I was referring to daily life for me.

You'd think I'd be worried about becoming middle-aged. Nope. My father died at 64. I was middle-aged at 32. Or maybe concerned about getting closer to death. Nah. I still have that youthful misconception of immortality. Yes I do know intellectually that it's coming, but I guess I'm mainly in denial.

Having kids changed my perspective too. I used to have "nightmares" where I would face some kind of danger. I put nightmares in quotes because I always win in my nightmares. I'm an optimist, even in my sleep. Now my nightmares are about my kids instead. I still win, but it's a little more unsettling.

The whole lawyer thing is going well. I was confident from early on (that optimism thing again), but now it's backed by a lot more experience, a deeper feel for the law, business sense, wisdom (but I have a long way to go on that one), and a bigger network of lawyer friends. I have the impression my reputation has grown. That only comes if you are honest and do good work.

I'm also learning, as Einstein mentioned, how much I don't know. For example, bankruptcy law was a mystery before but now I realize it's a huge and complicated mystery. I know enough about matrimonial law to be glad I don't do it, but not much more. Corporate law? I know less about it than I did in law school and that's saying a lot. I didn't know anything then. The key with all of these is that I know to ask others when these topics come up, and to some extent I know whom to ask. Look at that grammar - I even got whom right.

Health - yeah, that seems to be going downhill slowly. But I still perceive myself as athletic, though I never was. Things hurt more. I've got this one spasm in my lower back that's been there so long we're on a first-name basis (he's Charlie). The last four months I've been feeling a little crappy but it has gotten better recently. No diagnosis except maybe winter. I actually had a brain MRI - it was negative. :-)

Politics ... ugh. It is hellish. Serving on the town board has been great learning. I guess you could say all the attacks build character. There have been many unpleasant moments. More and more I appreciate how important it is to gut it out. Yes, it's full of nasty people. But if you let that keep you out, who are you leaving in charge? We need more good people.

Satisfaction is a big feature of my 40s. I'm very fortunate in so many ways and I realize it. It starts with family, all healthy and doing well. There is nothing I need that I don't already have. And there aren't too many things I want either, unless you get silly and start talking about private jets or sports cars. I considered a Porsche and chose a family sedan instead. Have I lost too much of the boy in me?

About twenty years ago my father and I were chatting. He was close to sixty. I told him I didn't know what I wanted to be when I grew up. "Me neither," he responded.

Many lawyers are unhappy with the profession. There are so many hassles. We've escaped one of the biggest - receivables. Attorneys struggle to collect money owed them by their clients. It haunts them. This is a big lesson - if a client won't pay you up front, there's a good chance they'll never pay. You have to insist on a substantial up-front fee.

I half-joke that the web business is going so well I won't have to be a lawyer any more. In part it's not a joke because I enjoy the internet work more, and in the long run I will probably make more money doing that. The joke part is that I still like being a lawyer.

Well, not completely. One thing has been troubling me most. Readers of this blog have seen my concerns with the criminal justice system in the past. It boils down to this. Regular people want criminals punished harshly. Politicians feed on that leading to a system that is too harsh, as well as unfair, impersonal, and unjust. My post about assembly line justice touches on this.

Here's a simple way of looking at it. There are four kinds of defendants. First come the innocents. Most people think that's a small percentage. It's more than you think. The remaining three groups are guilty of the offense charged or something in the ballpark. Some suffer from serious mental health problems, such as addictions or schizophrenia. Others are basically good people who made a mistake. The final group is the hardened criminals. It's also the smallest of the four. And that's who the system is designed for.

Sometimes I get calls from my young clients' parents. They're very upset about how the system is treating their children. When politicians say we need to be tough on crime, they're talking about your sons and daughters.

With some cases it gets to me:

The tourist treated like a terrorist.

The woman convicted by a judge on the testimony of a lying whore - I'll never do a bench trial again on a criminal case.

The profoundly disturbed prostitute traumatized by extended delay until we lucked into a humane prosecutor.

The innocent clients who took deals because they couldn't stomach the fight.

The cops who lie and the judges who let them get away with it.

The good kid who made a mistake and found his life drastically changed.


Maybe I'll remember more later. There have been plenty of redeeming moments too. Good judges, decent prosecutors, and honest and decent police.

I didn't mean to end this post on a down moment. Maybe I'll rework it later.
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