President’s Message December
December 17, 2009
This is my last article as President and this being the final month of my term, I have turned to reflection. Traditionally, the last article is a recap of the prior year summarizing accomplishments and thanking all of those who have helped along the way. While I can (and will) do the thanking before the end of this piece, I am going to exercise presidential prerogative to deviate from the norm because this year has marked more profound transitions for me upon which to reflect. In 2009 I became a grandfather and I completed a third of a century as a lawyer. Hence, this article is directed to my grandson Miles – born July 17 – with reflections on my practice of the law.
I was predestined to become a lawyer. Unlike you, Miles, I didn’t have parents, a grandfather and even a great grandfather who were lawyers. Neither my mother nor father graduated from high school prior to my arrival. Your great-grandmother went back to school once I started kindergarten and ultimately became an elementary school teacher. Apparently I was loquacious as a young child and my mother and older brother called me the “Philadelphia Lawyer” because I talked nonstop. Probably as a result of this, I started identifying with lawyers early on and read a biography about Clarence Darrow in grade school, watched the television series Perry Mason religiously and paid special attention to things involving lawyers. I decided that I would be a lawyer in junior high school (middle school today) when my home room teacher, Mr. Aguilera, pronounced that most important, life empowering statement that all children should hear, “You can be anything that you want to be.” I believed him and made the choice.
In high school, I took speech and debate along with the regular curriculum because I knew it was part of the preparation for being an attorney. I started dating your grandmother as a freshman, drawn in part (I have to be careful here) because her father was a lawyer and I loved talking with him. By then my father was a bail bondsman and my brother was a police-
man, so I was surrounded by people in the law. However, I recall one evening in particular during high school when the decision to become a lawyer was
cemented. Two of my closest friends, John and Dennis, and I met with John’s dad, who wanted to talk to us about careers and higher education. We talked about various career paths but I distinctly remember Mr. Minteer saying, “Once you are a lawyer, you carry that around with you like a back pack. Wherever you go or whatever you do, you will always have your law degree to fall back on.” At the end of college, I toyed with going on in ancient history or archaeology. But that wasn’t part of the original plan. I was supposed to be a lawyer.
I do have to tell you that the universe of career choices available today has vastly expanded since the ‘60s and ‘70s. If you wanted a “better life” than your parents, you became a “professional.” That meant doctor, lawyer, dentist, accountant, engineer or teacher. In my community, no one talked about becoming an entrepreneur or businessman unless you were like a friend who was going to go into the family mortuary business. That option was neither available nor inviting. Education was the ticket to success. It was also a possible ticket to avoid the draft and being sent to fight in Vietnam in what had become a very unpopular war. It is impossible to even imagine today what choices will be available to you when it’s your time to choose a career. I do know that many young people who have come of age after me have been overwhelmed by the plethora of options and have found it hard to find or remain in any suitable niche.
Was it the right decision for me? I think that I can state with reasonable certainty that you would not be here (or at least in Ventura) had I chosen a different field. Your father might not have gone to law school and met your mother and, even if he had, he would not have returned to Ventura to work with me. So from that vantage alone, it was the right choice. But even that aside, I have always felt that I made the right decision. Let me tell you why.
Becoming a lawyer allowed me to move to Ventura and raise my family here. Mr. Minteer
was right. You bring your profession with you. One positive aspect of lawyers being ubiquitous is that they are indeed in every community. There are only so many ancient history professorships and, when a position opens up, wherever it is, you go there if you want the job. While law jobs may now be scarce (and they were when I graduated in 1976), government law offices still have turnover, some firms are still hiring and you can hang out your shingle as a last resort. This job has also remained intellectually challenging. I make no bones about the fact that I am still “practicing.” I learn something new on an almost daily basis. My principal practice area of employment law is in continual flux with a new hot topic every year, from disability to sexual harassment to wage and hour to who knows what next. I also enjoy my colleagues. In my opinion, little has changed in 33 years when it comes to the civility and collegiality among Ventura County practitioners. Of course we all know of the exceptions. However, one has but to deal with “out of towners” for a short time to see the difference. Practicing law has provided a good life for our family and introduced us to our closest friends. It has also afforded me the opportunity to work with your father and be a part of your life growing up.
What have I learned that I can pass on that might be of benefit to you? I am assuming that there will be plenty of opportunities in the years to come for me to tell you my view of things. But this is about being a lawyer and the “secrets” that I learned (which just might carry over into other endeavors) are these: First, be comfortable in who you are; be yourself. Everyone has a different image of The Lawyer. For the lay community, a lawyer is the “shark,” the “ambulance chaser,” the “hired gun,” the list goes on. While there are some kernels of truth in these stereotypes of lawyers, it is not you unless you become that way. Among lawyers there are different styles and approaches; there is the “hard ass,” the nice guy, the consensus builder, the jerk. Clients may want you to act one of these parts. Again, your style and approach should be reflective of who you
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