When Yogi Berra died last week, the media was full of Yogiisms, his oft-quoted malapropisms. One that can actually be attributed to him struck me as perfect for this post: “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”
I’m taking a major fork. At the end of today, I will no longer be a full-time attorney or partner in the state’s largest law firm. I’ve spent the entirety of my 29 years, 3 months and 29 days practicing law there. Tomorrow, I will be “of counsel,” doing some work for a particular client for several months but I’m leaving the full-time practice of law forever.
At the risk of or actually sounding like the old fart talking about “the good old days,” the practice of law has changed over the years — and not for the better. Due in part to the growing number of lawyers, I believe professional courtesy and competency have declined. I am at times dumbstruck by the shoddy product I see and the contentious assertion of what are truly asinine arguments. Yet these problems face everyone who practices law, so it isn’t the main reason for the fork. How law firms operate also has changed. While it’s always been there, I’ve seen a significant increase in the focus on individual gain as opposed to who we are as professionals. There’s still some altruism, naivete and egalitarianism that haven’t been crushed by my cynicism. Combine all four and it’s difficult to accept “what’s in it for me?” trumping skill, ability and similar intangible assets and contributions. Practicing law isn’t easy, it’s often stressful and even more frequently frustrating. Focusing on its pecuniary aspects makes it more difficult and needlessly consumes energy and time.
This latter change also has been gradual. In fact, I’d decided a couple years ago that I was going to retire on my 30th work anniversary, in part because I would also be 59½ (some will recognize the significance of that age). But events over the last year or so made me realize that it wasn’t worth continuing to practice solely for that reason. In fact, I would have been done this at the end of last year but for the influence of a handful of my partners. And if a 30th anniversary rationale was artificial, the timing now is probably more so. It’s my present for myself for my 59th birthday this month.
This prompted my education binge. And there seems to be a trend in my “going away” presents so far: three books from my assistant of 27 years, a $50 Amazon gift certificate from my kids and four books from one of my partners. That’s great because I told my wife that one of my goals this winter is to get up in the morning, read until my eyes get tired, take a nap, read until my eyes get tired, take a nap, and repeat throughout the day.
What am I going to do? I have no clue and no plans. Basically, I’m going to kick back for a while and maybe what I want to be when I grow up will sneak up on me. All I know for sure is that I intend to enjoy the hell out of this fork.
I enjoy waking up and not having to go to work. So I do it three or four times a day.