In part two (see part one here) of this poignant and introspective piece, our guest writer and retired lawyer, Murray Gottheil, looks back on his career through a Q&A with his younger self. As he reflects on the lessons he has learned and the experiences that have shaped him, Murray offers valuable insights and wisdom for anyone looking to make their mark in the legal profession.
In Part One of The View From The End of The Road, Old Murray (“OM”) went back in time to speak to Young Murray (“YM”) about the beginning of his journey in the legal profession and concluded that Young Murray just did not get it.
Now, Old Murray is going to check in to see whether everything got better when Young Murray became a partner.
OM: When are you finally going to get serious about developing that client base?
YM: I’m too busy right now but I am going to get to that soon.
OM: You better hurry. There are storm clouds on the horizon.
OM: Have you learned to say no to difficult clients or will you continue to put up with whatever they are handing out because you just want to maximize your billings?
YM: Sure, some clients are difficult but what do you want me to do about that? Fire them?
OM: Why yes, actually, I do.
OM: Do you like and respect your partners? If not, for what possible reason have you not voted with your feet yet?
YM: I like most of them. Sure, we have the fringe, but they are not in charge.
OM: You forgot to say “yet.” Young Murray. Remember this: It shall follow as the night follows the day that the Fringe always takes over eventually.
OM: Is earning more than most of your partners really making you happy?
YM: It makes me happier than if I earned less than them. Plus, I finally developed that client base that you have been nagging me about.
OM: So the sell-out is complete. At least you have some clients.
OM: Have you finally gotten to the point where you can work reasonable hours and enjoy life? If not, when exactly do you think that is going to happen?
YM: You cannot hold onto a great client base if you are not available to them when they call. That is just how it works.
OM: Yes, that is how it works if you are now following the beaten path.
OM: So when exactly did you go from wanting to help the poor and the oppressed to wanting to be one of the top earners at your firm?
YM: It just sort of happened. I can donate some of my big income to charity and get a tax deduction for it. So I’m still a good guy.
OM: Are you really?
OM: Do you even remember why you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place?
YM: Not really.
OM: I didn’t think so.
OM: So, you are earning quite a bit now. Happy yet?
YM: I’m happy with what I am earning, but I am still way too stressed.
OM: If only someone had warned you that this path leads to a cliff.
OM: Still married or did the pressure finally do that in?
YM: Still married. It could be better.
OM: I think that you doth understate the problem.
YM: How many years since you last went to the gym regularly?
OM: I try, but I keep cancelling because a business meeting comes up or I need to get something done, or I have to get a deal closed.
YM: So your priorities are all screwed up and you still don’t get it.
OM: Basking in the respect and love of your partners and colleagues?
YM: Some of them like me. Some of them put up with me. Some of them resent me because I make more money than they do. A few of them are scheming to push me aside and get control.
YM: Yes, they are. And they will succeed eventually when you have your breakdown.
OM: How do you like the next generation dismantling everything you spent decades creating?
YM: They just don’t get it. We had great reasons for building the firm the way we did and now the Fringe is in charge, and they want to change everything.
OM: Stop caring. Move on.
OM: Time to get the hell out yet?
YM: Oh yes. I want out.
OM: Are you sure that you don’t want to say a bit longer until you are truly sick?
OM: How are things now that you are no longer in the partner club?
YM: They pretty much ignore me now. I am happy just working on my own clients.
OM: Isn’t it amazing how much simpler life gets when you are doing what you want to do?
OM: How in hell did you manage to let others influence your priorities and decide how your career would progress for 40 years instead of taking charge of it yourself?
YM: I don’t know. It just sort of happened.
OM: Time to retire yet?
YM: Hell yes.
OM: Hell yes.
OM: So what are you going to do now that you have spent your entire life working so hard that you never developed any hobbies or interests?
YM: Golf, maybe?
OM: You are about to find out that when golf moves from becoming your escape to your full-time activity, it isn’t as much fun.
OM: Do you have any idea how lucky you are to have escaped the legal profession with your health mostly intact?
YM: I actually do. I see many who didn’t.
OM: Okay. You have your health. Start planning for your second act.
OM: Well, I suppose that at least you were lucky enough to have saved all of that money, especially with that financial hit that you took with the divorce. Don’t you think?
YM: I prefer to call it a “domestic reorganization.”
OM: So do I.
OM: How are you going to spend it? Do you have anyone to go on that world cruise with you?
YM: No comment.
OM: No comment.
I made most of those mistakes, but I did wise up eventually and escaped my legal career better than some. I got out with my health mostly intact. My second marriage is great. But if I could do it all again, I would certainly do some things differently. I would decide what type of life I want to live and build my career around that instead of allowing my career to define the type of life that I was going to live. Most importantly, I would set my own priorities, both personal and professional, and never assume that those who came before me knew what the hell they were doing.
If I were starting out today, I would have some tools that I did not have back in the day. Today there are a multitude of voices that are easily accessible on social media and more generally on the internet. There is readily accessible information about work/life balance and mental health, and many people are sharing their experiences. Legal technology is also available to save time and increase efficiency if used properly. Hopefully, I would make good use of those tools instead of just listening to the establishment voices.
Murray Gottheil practiced law for 39 years, primarily in a medium sized law firm in Mississauga, Ontario. He was the practice head for the corporate department for much of that time and the managing partner of the firm for 5 years. Now he lives in the country, drives a pick-up truck, complains about the legal profession, and wonders whether he would have less to complain about if legal tech had been more of a thing when he was working.
Engaging insights and the latest news, designed for legal professionals.