Thursday, January 11, 2007

I've been pretty lucky

I was thinking recently about how lucky I've been in my life. I see so many people who have so much and yet complain about their problems, which are usually trivial when compared to the problems of others. Most of us in the US have very good lives compared to certain parts of the rest of the world.

How have I been lucky? For starters, I was born into a family that cares about me. I don't just mean my parents, but include my brothers, grandparents, uncles and aunts, and cousins. My parents, in particular, were very good to me. My father was in many ways my best friend. My mother and brother continue in that, along with my wife. My entire family cared about making sure I got an education. They made sure I understood some of the fundamental values that I can't quite put my finger on, but are at the core of my being and keep me grounded. I've also had some very good friends over the years.

As a criminal defense lawyer, I often encounter clients who lack that important base. Their parents didn't care about them in the same way. They don't have a place where they feel safe, secure and loved, and they never had it. Perhaps they were abused in some way. This is not necessarily true of all our clients, but it's not unusual at all among criminal defendants.

I was lucky to be born in the United States. Sometimes I think Americans just don't realize how good we have it. My foreign travel experience is mostly limited to 1st world countries in Western Europe and East Asia. While these places are mostly pleasant, we still have it better. I forgot to mention Canada. For me Canada is really the same as us, but that's way off topic and maybe I'll discuss that another day. Getting back to this point, we in the US are blessed with abundance like nowhere else on earth. First and foremost, we have so much land. As we build our town court directory, I am frequently struck by the towns that have 40 square miles of land and less than 1000 people. Our country as a whole has 3.7 million square miles, which is 2.4 billion acres. We have 300 million people, for an average of 8 acres per person. That is simply astonishing. France, which has lots of rural areas, is 3-4 times as crowded, with Germany and the UK about 8 times and Japan more than 10 times as crowded as us.

But our abundance is not limited to land. We are wealthy. Our per-capita income is roughly third in the world behind Luxembourg and Norway, and Ireland right behind us. Japan, Germany, the UK and France all have 75% or less of our income. I would argue that we are still wealthier than the others in many respects.

One often hears complaints about inequality in the US, but the poorest here have better health care than much of the rest of the world, and certainly better than what the richest had 100 years ago. I was at the home of a rather poor client a couple years ago. While this large family shared a small apartment, they had running water, phone, cable TV, internet, and plenty of other resources that are often unavailable to the upper middle class in poor countries.

I was lucky to find the right woman for me. My wife Heather is really a perfect fit for me, in so many ways. I'll keep this part short and just say I married well. We have also been lucky to have healthy children and a family that continues to be supportive. We have even been lucky in having wonderful neighbors.

That's a good background on how I was lucky from the beginning. Other brief mentions are being born with good test-taking skills and having had good health (knock on wood).

And I've been lucky in other ways. For my career, I was lucky to have a father who was a law professor. This made the path to becoming a lawyer easier than it is for others. My dad was very helpful in so many ways in the process of becoming a lawyer.

You could argue I was unlucky in the timing of my graduation. It was a bad year for new lawyers. There just weren't many jobs. But eventually I lucked into a job as a trial lawyer with Allstate. This was just plain dumb luck. The guy they wanted to hire failed a credit check, so the job fell into my lap. It was a great job for me - fantastic experience.

Next, I got a job with a judge. Not just any judge, but a great guy, extremely intelligent, and a good boss - the now-retired Hon. Robert P. Best. Not only that, but the job was in Fulton County, which was a great community for me. I got to see a lot of solo and small office practitioners and that gave me the confidence to open my own shop.

This is where luck becomes really palpable at the moment. When I opened my own office, I didn't have that much work. I knew how to create a website and have a brother who has been quite helpful in that process. When I started I didn't know that the website would be significant in the practice, but since I didn't have that much else to do, I worked on it some.

My practice was going along okay, but I was not making much money. I started getting a few clients from the website and - I'll give myself some credit here - I paid attention to what brought them to the site. Once I realized what was working, I started building on that.

Still, the money situation wasn't great. When tax time hit in April of 2005, I had to borrow on credit cards (zero interest, but still nerve-wracking) and was looking at the help-wanted section of the local paper. Then the website really started to hit. Starting in July of 2005 and through January of 2006, we really started getting some substantial and consistent revenue online. And that pretty much gets me to where I am today.

The web thing was lucky in a couple of ways. First, I had no idea it was going to work this well. Second, the web happened to click around the time I started my practice. If I had started 2 years earlier, I probably would not have made it. 2 years later and others would have gotten there first.

When I started this post I never thought about the conclusion, and still haven't figured it out. So that's it. :-)

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