Conferences / Symposia, Old People, Practice Pointers, Small Law Firms

Lessons Learned From Hanging Out With 75-Year-Old Lawyers

I just returned from my annual Bar convention. Have you been? Hundreds of lawyers, judges, and a smattering of law students attending meetings, receptions, CLE seminars, and having chance meetings at the real “bar” with opposing counsel — it’s a day or two to realize you’re part of something bigger than your law office.

I know, some of you hate your state Bar. You don’t hang out with “Bar-types” and see no value in spending a day or two running around a hotel and saying hello to lawyers you know and don’t know.

Being involved in my state Bar has been one of the most important components of building my practice…

Three years into practice, I became friends with someone prominent in my state Bar. He told me of the importance of being involved, encouraged me to get involved, and said if I wanted to be on a committee, he would make it happen. I picked a rules committee, but was told I needed more experience to be on that committee and was instead appointed to another rules committee.

When I first attended this meeting, I walked in to a room of about 50 people — lawyers from all over the state in various practice areas, as well as judges. The practice area of the rules committee was not an area in which I spent much time, but I realized soon that others on the committee practiced in different areas as well. One member was a prosecutor. He and I disagreed on every single issue. In fact, he disagreed with most people on the committee. Often he was the one dissenting vote. As I write this article, he’s sitting right next to me on another committee, a decade later, many cases and a developed friendship later.

I have many stories like that. I sit on my third committee now, full of the many familiar faces of people I’ve called on for advice and help, and those who have done the same to me. Yes, I know, you’re wondering — because it’s all you care about — “Do you get cases from it?” Yes, idiots, relationships turn into cases; have you not learned that yet?

It’s not just sitting on the committees, discussing the issues of the day, it’s the estate planning lawyers going to the business law reception, or the family lawyers going to the appellate reception. After a few years, it becomes a day or two of packed events, people to see again, and people to meet for the first time.

Now to the 75-year-old lawyer.

Among the suits walking the conference center, name tags prominently displayed, I saw him in the lobby, in a polo shirt and shorts. He had no name tag, he had no iPad or stack of materials for his next meeting. This year, as last year, he was getting an award for his lifetime of service to the Bar. He’s one of the giants of the profession.

I walked over to him to say congratulations and asked why he was dressed so casually. He said, “It is a resort, right?”

I asked him what he had planned for the day. He had a meeting, a lunch, all the same stuff. But he had one event he was looking forward to more than the award dinner.

See, back in the 70s he was a member of the young lawyers section. For the first time, they were holding a reunion. Although he was receiving one of the highest awards the Bar gives, he was more excited about seeing old friends.

At 75 years old, and with 51 years practicing law, what really matters to him is the relationships he’s developed — the relationships he developed by showing up to a Bar convention.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

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