Whipper-Snappers Know Their Stuff
by Doug McQuiston
I recently attended an annual lawyers' convention, a late-summer ritual I have enjoyed for about the last 19 years. These three-day affairs, always held in a nice mountain setting, offer a good opportunity not only to get a full year's worth of cle credits, but also to get in some serious fly-fishing and hanging out with the kids before school starts. What could be better?
As we checked into the hotel this year, though, we noticed something. Of course, had we been paying attention, maybe the fact that Modern Maturity magazine had started showing up in my mailbox, and my son is a sophomore in college, would have clued us in, but somehow we missed it. My wife turned to me and said, "Jeez--these lawyers all look like kids! When did this happen?"
I looked around. The other lawyers checking into the conference all seemed to be trailing baby strollers or toddlers; others were unloading their kayaks or mountain bikes. They all had that fresh-faced look of untried youth. The conference sessions were attended by as many (if not more) women than men. But they were all so young! I then realized that at some point over these last 19 years, I had become one of the "old timers." I was moving into elder status in the group. I don't exactly know when it happened; I never got the memo. Looking around now, though, there was no denying it. I was a geezer.
Somewhere over the last almost 20 years, my colleagues seem to have all gotten younger as I got older. In 1981, my registration number was among the first with five digits; at the time, I worried that anyone who saw it would instantly brand me as a wet-behind-the-ears doofus, someone they could take advantage of. I compensated by trying to quickly become an expert in my field, studying the advance sheets every week, reading every Tort and Insurance Practice Journal, and actually taking notes at cle sessions.
Now, as I look at many of the lawyers with whom (and against whom) I practice, I notice that their registration numbers are more than twice as high as mine. There are now many more lawyers younger than me than older. My mentors have all retired. The younger lawyers now look at me as the old guy. It's not all bad; it is nice to be asked for advice now and then. It takes me less time to do most of what I do now than it did then, because I have learned how over the years. I find myself (a little) less eager to rise to the bait when someone tries to pick a fight with me, although my blood still boils if it is heated long enough.
As the convention went on, I watched my younger colleagues, listened to them and talked with them. I'll probably never know what the old-timers thought of me and my contemporaries 20 years ago, but I came away from my weekend conference completely impressed. The profession will be in good hands, probably much better, in the years to come. The new lawyers I see coming up in the profession all seem to have a great sense of perspective. They understand their clients' needs better, but they also seem to understand their obligations to the profession better, too. In my experience most are less likely to resort to unfair or overly aggressive tactics than some adversaries my age. When I think of that handful of lawyers I can't trust, or who cause my heart to sink when I see their name on the first pleading, all of the names on the list are my age or older. Have the new lawyers learned the lessons of professionalism that some of my contemporaries are still missing?
The young lawyers I have dealt with, by and large, are better because they have learned from our mistakes, not from any conscious effort on our part. I suppose this observation could be argued to be an over-generalization, and I am sure there are some young lawyers out there who don't deserve this praise, but I don't think it is a coincidence that the "list" of lawyers I try to avoid contains no one under 35. Maybe part of the reason is that these younger lawyers still remember why they became lawyers, and are still impressed by the ethical obligations our license imposes.
I left the convention invigorated, as I always do. It wasn't just the fishing this time, though. The enthusiasm and awe of my younger colleagues rubbed off a bit. I was encouraged that the best-attended session was the one on practicing with professionalism. Although the faces I saw there were mostly younger, I was encouraged, too, that there were many of us hidebound old dogs there too, and we were listening.
Those commentators lamenting the cloudy future of our profession, or reminiscing about the "good old days" when we all got along, haven't hung around enough young lawyers lately. With few exceptions, their enthusiasm and aspiration to the lofty goals of our profession can be a lesson to all of us. The bar's future is secure.
I take some comfort in knowing my AARP card is still a few years off, but when it does come, and I slip off to the trout stream for good, I will leave knowing my clients will be in capable hands. I think the best of the good old days are yet to come.