Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Quiet Times

In what would appear to be the indicator of business buzz, our first meeting of the day was at 8:30 a.m. this morning, to review and sign the last Will and Testament of an elderly Client. I had arranged to have my capable Assistant in attendance at that time, though she usually does not arrive until 9:00 a.m. Why it was that my Client wanted to meet outside regular office hours I do not know, nor of course did I ask; but it has to be observed (perhaps snidely) that only a retired elderly person would be intent on doing so.

Once that duty was accomplished, and after my Assistant had completed the daily bookkeeping in her inimitably prompt fashion, and I had opened the only envelope (a bill) which came in the mail today, the two of us were left to stare at one another. Not to put too fine a point on it, in spite of the early start, we’re not exactly busy. The only thing, however, which preserves me from immediate despondency about the current dearth of retainers (apart from the constant and exceedingly welcome buoyancy of my capable Assistant) is that we are frequently in a trough at the beginning of a month. It all has something to do with mounting urgencies towards the middle of the month as people seek to conclude this or that project by the end of the month (and as I have mentioned so often before, real estate agents seem to know only one day of the month, the last). In addition, as my Assistant commented, people may be preoccupied with the upcoming Thanksgiving Weekend, a family affair which normally exhausts commercial energy in favour of more important personal gatherings and travel. Indeed, even this morning a gentleman informed me that he and his good wife are leaving today to begin their Thanksgiving Weekend at the family cottage in Quebec with his parents, only to return next Tuesday.

So, all this said, and having sent my Assistant packing, I comfort myself to know that we’re on the brink of a distracting holiday. I am further able to dissolve my customary ennui by glancing at our financial records, which happily disclose that we’re basically neck and neck with last year’s performance. Meanwhile I am obliged to amuse myself by wandering aimlessly about the rooms of the sunlit office, absorbing the quietness of the place (interrupted only by the clanging of the various mantle, desk and grandfather clocks and the strains of Le Nozze di Figaro on the CD player), examining the trophies I’ve collected over the years, looking over the end of my nose at the multitude of pictures, maps and diplomas hanging on the walls, a veritable museum of historic paraphernalia.

One may reasonably question why I persist in putting myself through this imposed imprisonment when there is so patently nothing to be done. As credible as the proposition may sound, nonetheless it just isn’t in me to abandon the ship on so slight a pretext. It requires the most compelling reason for me even to consider absenting myself from the office before 5:00 p.m. daily. I also know for a fact that it is one of the reasons I am on top of things that I deal with them promptly as they arise. While my admitted impatience tends to draw matters out, the reality is that the lulls between business spurts are relatively short. If one were to contemplate closing the doors for hours or even days, it readily becomes apparent that things would begin to pile up rather quickly. One telephone call can precipitate hours of occupation. Anyway, it’s simply a choice which I have made over the years to keep my nose to the grindstone. Furthermore, as a small business entrepreneur, I rather enjoy and cultivate the message of availability and perseverance. I shall never forget the image of a retailer on Madison Avenue in Upper Eastside Manhattan years ago, coming from a back room to the store front upon my arrival. If it was good enough for him, it’s good enough for me. He, by the way, had the most stunning and extensive collection of crystal paperweights I have ever seen in my life. Not surprisingly he informed me that he had customers from all over the world. The millefiori which I purchased from him is one of those trophies I mentioned earlier.

As one might expect, the number of emails which come and go is a barometer of the commercial climate. Once again it is no accident that today the traffic on Outlook Express is less than regular. There are no enquiries about estate administrations, no comments about on-going property purchases and sales, no calls from accountants to provide background corporate information about mutual Clients. Everything about the day is as pacific as the falling Autumn leaves. Apart from a social call from a colleague, the only other telephone call today was from a "IT" expert new to the area who is trying to market his services. I told him candidly that, after thirty-three years in business, I had already developed long-standing alliances, but he was welcome to email his package of information to me for my examination, which he said he would do. I referred him to my website for contact information, a ploy which I naturally use for my own advertisement purposes.

The colleague who called this morning is almost the same age as I, and he has been practicing law for about the same time, though in a large national firm. He shared with me that at times he feels he would be just as happy never to return to the office, though in the same breath he mentioned that he didn’t want to suffer the economic consequences of doing so. He is one of those people who, like so many others, took a hit to his mutual funds in last year’s economic downturn. My friend also acknowledged that many of our contemporaries have given no thought to what they might do - assuming they were able - in retirement. He also agreed that the "Freedom 55" thing was a scam and a myth, having little appeal to the majority of the working population.

When I encountered these slow periods in the early years of my practice, invariably I assumed that I alone was suffering the brunt of the depression. Since then, however, I have discovered that what happens affects the butcher, baker and candlestick maker equally, and certainly other lawyers. The trades and the professions are unquestionably in step with one another, an observation which is often overlooked in spite of its cogency. As such, one must nurture the privilege of reflection and relaxation at these times. Assuming one keeps a handle on the wheel and an eye on the horizon, it is but a matter of time before the weather changes, and most likely bringing with it new horizons and opportunities.

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