Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Small Consolation

After having cautiously minced my way to work yesterday in a freezing rain, I had little enthusiasm this morning for having to struggle once again with frozen sidewalks so I drove to work even though the sun is shining brilliantly. I suppose it is just one more excuse for avoiding exercise and for driving my car, but it really is more than a challenge on foot. Besides I happen to know from a municipal Councillor who attended our Board meeting last evening that the Town is cutting back on its winter maintenance schedule in hopes of saving some taxpayer dollars. In the result I am opting to give the sidewalks a miss for the time being. The temperature may rise to something above zero today, and that may melt some of the offensive ice and snow which is clustered about the sidewalks. Remarkably the Judge continues to walk with his guide dog whether Tuesday or Doomsday. By his own admission, the sidewalks are perilous, but he was nonetheless clutching his newspaper and goods from the bakery as usual.

It was thirty-six years ago that I was called to the Bar at Osgoode Hall; and thirty-three years ago to the day that I opened my own practice. As common as it is to observe it, I never imagined I would be sitting here today very much as I was thirty-six years ago. In point of fact, however, that isn’t quite true. There are now huge differences in my working experience from what it was then. In a nutshell, I wouldn’t want for a minute to repeat the past. To begin, in my early days of practice I had between two and three assistants; now I have none other than one part-time contract assistant for bookkeeping, witnessing and commissioning of affidavits. The choice to be extremely critical of the work I undertake has allowed me to handle what I do on my own. There is the obvious financial corollary which is not negligible especially where one’s level of activity is much reduced. From time to time I question my ingenuity in developing and maintaining this new business model, but again and again I am reminded that the time has come to avoid doing anything hard not only because the challenges are best left to the younger generation but also because my health requires it. There is still unquestionably the advantage of maintaining a practice for an income stream and related tax concessions, not to mention that I positively need something to keep me busy during the day. But the other major shift from my earlier days of practice is that almost invariably I now leave the office at five o’clock. In addition, being a seasoned practitioner, I no longer question every aspect of my practice. By sticking to what I know best and have done repeatedly for all these years, I have a fairly high level of comfort in what I do and confidence in what I suggest to my Clients. To say that I suggest things to my Clients is perhaps putting it too mildly; by contrast I am quite aggressive in marketing courses of action to my Clients when I see that it is for their well-being. It is misplaced etiquette to imagine that inexperienced Clients can handle even the more common legal conundrums.

Not surprisingly as one advances in age and experience, it is traditional to compare oneself to others who are in similar states, specifically to examine who is still in the harness. Luckily for me the legal community is not known for its early retirement, in fact quite the opposite. As someone recently remarked to me it is acceptable for an elderly professional to continue his practice into advanced years, often pedaling the rudimentary requirements to an aging Clientele. It makes sense that many long-time Clients will not want to shift to a newer, younger model. Further the needs of the aging Clients are much reduced and often involve disposition rather than acquisition, thus entailing considerably less due diligence. As I discovered thirty-three years ago when I took over an aging lawyer’s practice, much of the work is centered on estate administration. In all likelihood my experience will continue to be the same at this stage of my own career. I am currently poised upon the precipice of a generational change (which is usually reckoned as about thirty years).

It must be owned it is an advantage of a small town practice that one is obliged to offer day-to-day types of legal services, not the more complicated and heady matters, for example, of the downtown city practices. When the world economy is so closely associated from one country to another, there would appear to be much less exposure in a rural practice than in an urban practice to the sometimes extreme variations in commercial activity wrought by the larger forces of the world economy. At the grass roots level much of the fundamental legal activity goes on uninterrupted by outside influences. I imagine that it is the difference between being a standard grocery store and an up-scale dining establishment. Some provisions are always required; others can be foregone. Having said that, the theory is somewhat diluted by the fact that so many people of every stripe are now connected to worldwide stocks and conglomerate investments which effectively diminish the spending habits of most people when times get tough as they have in the United States over the past several years. Nonetheless rudimentary legal services are still not entirely discretionary and most people recognize the value of the basic legal documentation such as Wills, Powers of Attorney and essential estate planning devices. Estate administration is clearly not economically driven.

Whatever one might say about the general state of the economy and the effect of world forces, the one thing about which I am certain is that we are all affected in the same manner, whether butcher, baker or candlestick maker. I can say almost conclusively that if I am busy, so is everyone else. The reverse is also true, small consolation that it may be.

No comments:

Post a Comment