At the end of the year, lawyers and law firms sit down and assess the year’s performance. For most, that’s primarily a financial analysis. After all, we are in business, and making money is essential. For many, it is of the only real measure of success.
There are lots of ways to make one’s living. For truly capable, ambitious people, practicing law is not the most likely way to great financial success.
On the other hand, there are other measures of success, and at least for me, practicing law has allowed me not only to make my living and but enjoy a broader range of compensations than I would likely have in some other endeavor.
Building relationships with clients is one of the things I enjoy about the practice of law. I’ve represented all kinds of clients, including businesses, not for profits, and government entities. But for the most part, I’ve represented individuals. And of course, even when lawyer represents an entity, contact with the client is inevitably through some individual.
So the practice of law is a very personal business. Because I focus on civil litigation, most of my individual clients come and go. I represent them once or maybe, in rare instances twice, in a lifetime.
But there have been some notable exceptions. There are a few individual clients who I have represented month-in and month-out over many years. Probably, that is because I started out as a general practitioner, not as a litigator. Some of my general practice clients have stayed with me.
One of those relationships ended this fall, when my most senior client passed away. I started in private practice in the fall of 1980 and in the spring of 1982 a retiring lawyer in my law firm brought his long-time client of his to see me. Our retiring partner had represented the client for many years. The client was approaching retirement age himself.
We agreed to be lawyer and client, neither anticipating the length and depth of the relationship we would share.
The client would not have been a natural friend for me: our values, interests, and politics were as different as our stages of life. But his legal affairs were many, and over the ensuing 30 years, I opened more than 60 different files for him.
He had a broad range of needs, and as I was “his lawyer,” he insisted that I serve them all, even when that meant I had to get help.
My last assignment was a death-bed codicil. As he reached the end of life, he wanted to make one more change in his will, and I appeared at his home to aid in its adoption. He seemed to be doing well in the circumstances. He answered my questions demonstrating the capacity to make or change his will. He signed the codicil. My paralegal and I witnessed it. He thanked me and I promised that I would stop back again in a few days. We shook hands.
As it turned out, there would be no going back. Over the following weekend, he passed away in his sleep.
I had represented him for 30 years. The services that he required were, by and large, routine. I tried no cases on his behalf. I argued no appeals. I did not even take one deposition for him.
My representation mostly consisted of giving him to best advice I could, and drawing some rather simple documents. He did not always accept my advice. Things did not always go well.
But I know that he valued my advice, and I know that I enjoyed the quality of our relationship. Towards the end, as outside influences tugged him one way and another, his needs challenged my ability to stay in my role, and to represent my client, not the situation.
I appreciate the trust he placed in me. The representation won’t make much of an impression in our year-end calculations, but I won’t forget it.