Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, October 4, 2013

Under Analysis

Transitioning from middle age lawyer to grumpy old man

The weather is in flux here at the Levison Towers. Skip Harvey, the maintenance man, has been here long enough to be unflummoxed by the whole ordeal. Although temperatures have dropped about 20 degrees in the Midwest seemingly overnight, the heating and cooling system at the Towers are not nearly as responsive. Those of us who know better wear jackets over short sleeve shirts. Newcomers call Skip to complain. They invariably get his voicemail and no response.

While the weather is a welcome change, the change in my life I have noticed lately is not nearly so welcome. I have become a grumpy old man.

As a young lawyer, I would routinely show up to court just in time for a docket call. As my practice has expanded into more rural areas, I've learned that if I'm not 15 minutes early to court, I’m ten minutes late. Much of my newfound punctuality was learned the hard way. I’ve shown up on a couple of docket calls at 9 o’clock, only to learn that the matter had been resolved by 8:30.

This is not a practice unique to rural judges, either. I remember when my sons were very young and I showed up 10 minutes late during a jury trial due to a spit up/suit and tie collision. The judge greeted me with, “Ah, Mr. Farris. I was just researching the court’s ability to hold a lawyer in contempt for arriving to court late.” To this day, I'm not certain he was kidding.

A some point in the last ten years, I have started allotting an hour to make 30 minutes of travel. While this serves me well if there's unexpected traffic, it usually results in me sitting in an empty courtroom early in the morning. This isn’t such a burden as it allows me to catch up on my email, “Angry Birds,” and the latest gossip in the legal community. I have learned more about the week’s docket from morning conversations with a court clerk than from any law bulletin.

When my opponent is a fellow grumpy old lawyer, we have an opportunity to work out whatever disagreements we have. When the court has a “first-come first-served” policy, it lets me be first on the docket. For a plaintiff’s lawyer on a contingency fee, waiting is done pro bono. Even though my defense counterparts bill for their time, I think it's rude to waste it. When I realize I’m going to be late somewhere, I break into a sweat. When I arrive late, I break into an apology.

This has spilled over into my non-lawyer life. I arrive at the airport early. I show up to plays and sporting events well before they begin – much to the chagrin of my young wife, who is occasionally fashionably late but never early. Since she married me when I was still Somewhat Young Lawyer Dude, I'm certain Grumpy Old Lawyer Man is a frequent disappointment.

Last week, I showed up at 8 o’clock for an 8:30 docket – much earlier for court than even I had planned. My opponent showed up late. Not “on time” late. Not “fashionably” late. Truly late. So much so that I wound up at the back of a docket rather than the front.

Without question, mistakes happen. My young opponent did not begin our meeting with an apology; however, this was no mistake. Unbeknownst to him, I had been doing a slow-burn since about 8:29.

As Middle-Aged Lawyer Man, I try to be a Zen about the way things happen. Even sleights should be quickly forgiven. On this day, my quest for Zenness failed.

The young lawyer said something about my unprofessional attitude. This set me off into a tirade that either began or ended (perhaps both) with the statement that one who drags themselves into court late with no excuse has a much different idea about professionalism than I.

To my credit, I caught myself mid-tirade and stopped. We worked out our differences that morning and left the courthouse no worse for the wear. While I refrained from raising my voice throughout the exchange, my blood pressure wasn’t nearly as cooperative.

When I came back to the office that day, I was still upset. Not with the young lawyer but with myself. When did punctuality become more important than forgiveness? For that matter, when did punctuality even become important?

I’m still young enough to be mindful of the transition that's occurring in me. I will fight it off as long as I’m able, AARP or not. In the meantime, I ask for patience from my fellow lawyers. And stay off my lawn.

©2013 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St. Louis, Mo. He is not eligible for AARP membership. Yet. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via email at comments@levisongroup.com.