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Legally Speaking


Issue: April, 2009
Author: Rick Lavery

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From the Top

My son Chris graduated from college last May with a degree in marketing. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do—go to graduate school, get a job, or hike around Europe, etc. At his parents urging, he ended up taking a job as a purchasing agent with a regional industrial construction company. He’s been living at home. I think it’s a great job with lots of opportunity. He, on the other hand, has dreams and dreams upon dreams that don’t necessarily jibe with being a purchasing agent. When you’re 23, that’s how it should be. So he’s been trying to find a way to get going – somewhere.

When it comes to my kids, I’m nervous by nature, and in this economy, I’m nervous, cubed. Ann and I have talked him out of leaving a couple of times, but the call to, “go west young man,” is just too strong. To him, there’s another gold rush going on. There isn’t any mining involved, but it’s the riches that come with finding something one loves to do and figuring out a way to do it! His college buddy, Mike, passed through and spent a night with us in January. He’s left a good job in Milwaukee and is heading west as well. We had a great visit and believe me, I get it. I know what they are looking for, but I’m the dad and I’m nervous. This isn’t the right economy to be unemployed and looking for work.

The morning Mike left, we were eating breakfast, watching the news and reading the paper--that’s my morning ritual. I don’t remember what channel we were watching (I know television stations want us to think that they offer a distinct perspective, but please, television journalism is the new “trash novel, err…short story.” They all say the same thing, and “newsworthy” has become an oxymoron in a single word. It’s not news and it’s not worthy.) Anyway, a story popped up about Caylee Anthony, the little girl who was first missing and subsequently found murdered. Her mother has been convicted by all of the television news mavens. Mike looked at me in disbelief and said, “Have you heard about this?” I told him that it had been all over the news for the last six months and started to give him my view of the garbage that poses as news. He looked at me and matter-of-factly said, “Oh, I don’t watch the news; it’s too depressing.”

Speaking of depressing, this month’s issue of the Wyoming Lawyer is dedicated to the economy. You may have participated in the Bar’s recent survey about lawyers and the economy. The survey results are printed in this issue. In one word, our members view the future with uncertainty. Things haven’t gotten particularly bad… yet, and things are not on a positive trend either. Most of us see things as being about the same but we are worried about the future. The rest of us are divided almost equally between the glass half full and glass half empty camps.

For those of us closer to the end than to the beginning of our careers (you know who you are), there is a lot of concern about our possible retirement. I can’t tell you how many times colleagues and friends in the legal community have said, “I don’t think I will be able to retire,” or, “I’ll just work until they carry me out of here.” Our 401K’s have been reduced to a 301K’s, then 201K’s, and then, I don’t want to think about it anymore!

For those of you who are closer to the beginning of your career, there is concern about the nature of the legal work and our state’s economy over the long term. My sister is the comptroller of a good size family investment company in Colorado. As you can imagine, times have not been good. We were talking one day recently and she offhandedly remarked that I was lucky. She didn’t think that lawyers were affected by a good or bad economy. She said, “People always need lawyers. The kind of work might change but the need is always there.” At the time I remember thinking that she might be right. On the other hand, she’s naïve to think that we all do the same thing and that a securities law attorney could easily shift his or her practice and be a bankruptcy lawyer. It’s not that easy and the uncertainty of change is always stressful. In addition, I don’t think we are nearly as recession-proof as others might think.

Our members believe that it’s going to take some time to get over the current financial troubles. Most predict 2010 but some think it could be even longer. It looks like most of us will move forward cautiously when considering salaries and other regular office expenses. We will probably delay expansion or spending on big ticket items if we can. We know the areas of law that will flourish in a downturn as well as the areas that won’t. All in all, a lifetime in Wyoming means we are pretty well versed in the nature of booms and busts. It is part of our history.

I did learn some things I had long forgotten from my breakfast with Mike. He and Chris still see the world as a place to explore and to conquer. Uncertainty is not an enemy; it’s an obstacle to be overcome. They think that by their own efforts they can make their own way in the world no matter what obstacles they confront. They caused me to think about the life that Ann and I set out to make for ourselves when we moved to Evanston in 1981. The boom/bust cycles in Wyoming have affected us all and the early to mid 80’s were a rough time too. We weathered it very well in part because we had that same attitude. We were just starting out, poor and willing to take some risk. It was fun and uncertainty was not going to stop us. Now that I think about it…..I don’t think I watched much television news back then.

Maybe it’s just tough for me to see Chris go because it means he’s gone on to the next stage of his life while a stage of our life is ending. He’s been a most important person in our lives. You see, he came into the world twelve weeks early. It took 75 days in a newborn intensive care unit (59 days on a respirator) just to get him home. He had brain bleeds, he was poked and prodded, he had heart surgery and he came home on oxygen that continued for about a year and a half. At the time, we didn’t know what his life or our lives would bring – uncertainty was part of our daily existence. During his first month of life, he either stopped breathing or needed a little chest pounding several times a day. I learned then that control of events is overrated. Life happens and we respond. Sometimes we have a say as events transpire and sometimes events have all the say. By the same token, we always respond. During those dark days, a good friend said to me, “I don’t know how you do it.” I remember asking him, “What’s the alternative?”

So there you go—the answer to this depressing economy. Stop watching the news so much! Realize that we haven’t yet learned how to manage all this information input and it can be good turn it all off for a while. That’s how young people do it. It’s what makes them ten feet tall and bullet proof. It’s so simple. The ability to take a risk and respond is directly proportional to our ability to believe that no matter what, we can and will respond. What’s the alternative? We may not be able to control events but whatever happens, we will surely deal with it.

Now, bankers and Wall Street types don’t have to worry about risk anymore. There’s a government program being designed to completely eliminate it for them. They will only have upside potential. But for the rest of us, we need a solution, and while I don’t propose that we stop paying attention altogether, we could stop paying attention so much. Twenty-four hour news, endless stock quotes, stories of personal tragedy and sadness from around the world--who needs it? Let’s say, “see ya’ later,” to Larry King, Wolf Blitzer, Sean Hanity, Bill O’Reilly and even those icons of the network news. Let’s give our local newspapers a second chance before they have gone the way of the dinosaur. Read the whole paper--the front page, sports page, funnies--the whole enchilada. It’s a more realistic view, the bad and the good. Just remember, we will all get out of bed tomorrow and do all the things we do, as professionals, family members, community members and friends, to make tomorrow a better day. After all, what’s the alternative?

Copyright © 2009 – Wyoming State Bar