Forty years ago, in May of 1980, I drove my 1973 Volkswagen Beetle to Seattle to study for and take the Washington State Bar examination. In passing through Clark and Cowlitz Counties on my way from Eugene, traffic was at times stalled as the Beetle's little windshield wiper blades knocked away eraser-sized pebbles and volcanic ash still raining down out of the sky from the recent volcanic eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
The hazardous air and slow progress seemed apropos. I had just been through three years of what I thought were pretty grueling studies devoted to learning to think like a lawyer, and dissecting most if not all of the different areas of law that one might encounter as a practicing attorney.
I have heard some of my colleagues say that they enjoyed law school. I didn't. I've heard some of my attorney friends claim that the bar examination was for them a snap. It wasn't for me. I did, however, manage to pass it, and was thus happily sworn in as a neophyte lawyer, in Vancouver, Washington, in October of 1980.
And, that was the beginning of what has been a wonderful and memorable career for me, ever since, in the private practice of law in both Oregon and Washington.
A lot has changed in the world from the early days of my practice. There were no such things as cellular phones or Internet, or computers available for everyday business use. Email obviously didn't exist. Attorneys communicated in person, often in court, or over a (landline) telephone connection, or they wrote a letter.
Speaking of letters, and pleadings, there was carbon paper; no copy machines. Secretaries were irreplaceable, trained to take dictation utilizing shorthand, and capable of typing 60+ words a minute on a mechanical typewriter – usually error-free.
Moving picture film was still a rarity outside of Hollywood. A still picture taken on a camera would have to be developed in a dark room.
You worked at an office, not at home. People still shook hands. It wasn't deemed unsafe to congregate with others, to celebrate, to visit, or to observe some event worthy of attention. You could walk outside, or into a room with others, without having to wear a mask. In fact, if you wore a mask, people would assume that you had an intent to rob the place.
The news on television, broadcast on Channel 2, 6, 8 or 12 for an hour maybe once or twice a day, endeavored to be unbiased, and as such was generally actually informative. But people who really wanted to be in-the-know read newspapers, several of them every day.
Eloquence carried the day. If you could speak effectively, and knew when to do so and when to be silent, you were an invaluable ally.
Like I said, much has changed.
I am not complaining. I still love my job. I am eternally grateful that I chose the path of becoming an attorney. I know that my commitment and the work I have done has touched many lives, and many of my clients and their families have touched my life in a very positive way. However, I will admit to a twinge of nostalgia, when I think about some aspects of “the good old days”. There are some things that I miss; some aspects of those simpler times.
As one example, I know that today we can instantly dial up a connection via cell call, FaceTime, or Zoom chat, for example, and are able to immediately on a whim easily access other media content on smartphones, watches, iPads, computers, or cable channels. I don't mean to disrespect the benefits that such instant opportunity for information-gratification offer. But to me, compared to being able to meet in person with a friend, colleague, or client, shake their hand, sit down over lunch or a cup of coffee or tea, and engage in undistracted real live conversation for an hour or two? The first is a shallow experience that, let's be honest, you typically engage in with your attention distracted and from which you typically can expect to reap few lasting recollections or rewards. The latter, in contrast, is an opportunity to really learn something, to challenge your brain and self-held opinions, and to develop respect of and for another person, or perhaps even a meaningful friendship.
It's like the difference between drinking a glass of Gatorade, versus one of fresh-squeezed orange juice.
In any event, I have really enjoyed my career as an attorney. I often have been heard to encourage young people at their moment of decision to consider law as an option. It is an honorable profession, and I am grateful that I chose it. It does for me seem to have gone by quickly, to be approaching this 40 year milestone. I cannot overstate how much I appreciate all the clients, colleagues, and friends that over the years have made my experience as a lawyer so memorable.
That about sums it up. But I will add this, in case it may interest you – to celebrate my 40th anniversary as a licensed attorney next month, here is what I intend to do. First and foremost, I am going to take a day off work. I am going to sleep in past 6 a.m. I am not going to work in my home at all that day. I am going to have coffee with my wife in the morning out on the porch, without wearing a mask. Around noon I am going to call my mother, both of my children, and then talk with my little grandchildren one at a time, and give each of them my regards as best I can on our old relic of a landline telephone. And then, in the evening – if the smoke and ash has dissipated sufficiently by then from our Vancouver skies for it to be safe to do so – I am going to take a long walk to the park and through the woods of our neighborhood greenbelt, and stop and smell the flowers along the way.
If you learn one thing from having been an attorney for four decades, it is the wisdom of taking time to smell the flowers along the way.