Advanced Law Firm

Sample Story: Baseballese

Would I do it all over again? People ask me that all the time these days. I guess that's a sign of age, being asked if you'd do it over again.

There may be dumber questions. But not too many.

We don't get the option to do it all over again. Unless, that is, you're one of them that believe you'll come back as a llama in the next life. Me, I don't believe it. But if I did, I wouldn't worry about it now. I'd worry about it in the next life, by which time I would hope llamas might have achieved a somewhat loftier position than they've managed so far.

I guess I'm not big on hypotheticals. At least not the type that aren't related to the here and now. I've got nothing against philosophy, mind you. In fact, I majored in philosophy. But I'm not the type to spend a lot of time contemplating abstract questions, like whether God exists. I prefer a philosophy borne of experience. I'm more your practical philosopher type. So, if I did spend time thinking about God, I'd be interested in things that really matter--like, if God were a pitcher, would he be a righty or a southpaw?

Maybe folks who ask me about doing it all over again mean to ask whether there's anything I'd do differently. Show me the person who answers "no" to that question and I'll show you one arrogant dude.

Law's been good to me. Real good. But that doesn't mean I wouldn't rather have been a shortstop for the Chicago Cubs. Fellow would have to be nuts to think otherwise.

I was born a Cubs fan. And I suppose that explains a lot about me. Takes character, being a Cubs fan. And patience. And faith. And perspective. And many other things, too.

Take 1969, for example. We're leading the league by ten games in September. Coasting along. Pennant's in the bag. So I figure it's safe to leave the country, take a vacation to Mexico, the Yucatan. Besides, I've just closed a public offering of convertible preferred for a major client. Perfect timing.

And what do the Cubs do? Blow it. But wait, it's worse than that. Who do they blow it to? Not the Dodgers, or the Giants. No, the Mets. They lose it to the damn Mets. The only Spanish I could read in the newspapers around Chichenitza were the headlines in the sports section each day: "Los Mets Ganan." Talk about suffering. Talk about humiliation. The Mets.

Fortunately, I'm over that 1969 disappointment now. I don't think of it more than two or three times a week, during the winter months. More, of course, during the season.

Baseball's a lawyer's game. Loaded down with rules. You've got to appreciate the fine points to love baseball. And you've got to accept its pace, too. Investment bankers hate baseball, I'll bet. Too slow for them. And not enough heads get knocked.

Yes, shortstop for the Chicago Cubs, that's about the pinnacle to which man can aspire. There are more glorious positions. Pitcher, I suppose. But I'd like to be out there every day, not just once or twice a week. Others might prefer to be the slugger who belts forty home runs and bats in a hundred and twenty. But as for me, I'd rather turn a double play, or throw someone out from the hole or slap a tag on a runner trying to swipe second. (Maybe that's the definition of maturity--the point at which you'd rather see a smooth double play than a long home run.)

You may think I'm veering pretty far from the law, talking about baseball. But I don't think so, really. Law firms today have gone the way of baseball teams, I'm afraid. Used to be, you could count on seeing the same players out there from season to season. Now, of course, ballplayers go to the highest bidder--free agents. Damn expensive free agents, if you ask me.

And it's getting so that law firms don't look the same from year to year, either. Partners display just about the same loyalty to their firms as ballplayers do to their teams. Actually, it's worse than that. Baseball teams, at least, sign players to multi-year contracts. Partners take off mid-season for an opportunity to make some more money at another firm (and take part of the team along with them). They see their careers as short, like athletes. If they're in a hot specialty--say environmental law, at the moment--and they see greener pastures elsewhere, they figure they'd better move there. There's no telling how long the specialty will stay hot. After all, what are all the antitrust and mergers-and-acquisitions lawyers doing today?

I don't blame individual partners for the popularity of free agency. I blame us law firms. Our failures have made it possible. We've tried to overcome those failures with partnership agreements that provide huge economic disincentives for leaving the firm. But they haven't worked. The courts won't enforce them. And our failures are not primarily economic, anyway. The thought that dollars are holding law firms together is mortifying.

Whomever's to blame, though, the implications of partner free agency are manifold. What do you tell the law student who has been romanced by the firm's hiring partner and serenaded with the firm's anthem, when the student arrives to find out that the hiring partner has moved crosstown to a firm whose offer the student declined? Do you really want to spend a hundred thousand bucks on a glossy firm brochure that features the photo of a partner who may be gone before the four colors of ink are dry? And are you prepared to tout the virtues of a partner in another practice area to one of your valued clients, when that partner may leave the firm and take the client with him?

Let's look for the bright side, though. I've been thinking that there ought to be room for somebody creative to turn a buck off of all this lawyer mobility. I've always longed to have my picture on one of those baseball cards that kids trade with one another. Maybe we ought to package partner trading cards. Photo of the partner on the front in his or her work uniform. And on the back, the vital statistics--practice area, billings, hours worked and earnings. I'll bet a rookie Stanley J. Fairweather partner card, in mint condition, would fetch a pretty penny, even without the bubble gum.