Before my partners and I started our own firm, I worked for a small insurance defense firm. It was a statewide practice, as most insurance firms are. Often times I would have to drive hours to some small county in the state for a 20-minute hearing, then get back in the car and drive right back.
I clearly recall one day when I spent roughly eight hours round-trip in the car, to attend one of those hearings that only took a little over 30 minutes. In the litany of intricacies of practice that law school does not adequately prepare law students for, add long car drives to the list.
That being said, I don’t really mind it. I rather enjoy the time alone in the car. It’s nice to be disconnected from things and alone with your thoughts. I listened to podcasts. I watched the pine trees go past mile after mile. I sat in silence, only the hum of the road to accompany me. In the hustle of drafting documents, responding to emails, returning phone calls, and meeting with clients, a few hours alone can be a respite….
After four hours in the car, I made it to the far corner of the state. Some might not think so, but I always considered it a benefit of state-wide practice to be able to go into small, rural towns and see courthouses built in the early 20th century. They’re all frozen in time to some extent. Roman ionic columns, white marble, dark mahogany. The smell of dust and an overbearing silence for places so large. Courthouses built in an age of growth and expansion now sit half-empty, courtrooms shuttered and entire wings closed off from the public. They match the towns’ Main Streets – pushed out of business by the Wal-mart MegaCenter on the outskirts of town. Although there are always a couple meat and threes left on Main Street. A few antique shops and clothing stores too.
I always purposely set out an hour early for such hearings so that I could find a local meat and three and grab lunch. Inside, the restaurant was half-filled with people with “Juror” stickers on. They had all walked down from the courthouse en masse for lunch. From the looks of the other patrons in the restaurant, so had half the lawyers and courthouse personnel. People spoke of window shopping, and the local football team, and gossip and scandal of some sort. Here was the original social media. People sitting in their local diner, talking about their community. Not hashtags or selfies. Just people spending time with each other and strengthening their relationships.
After lunch, I attended the hearing. It was on a Friday. The judge was in blue jeans and a button-down shirt. We met in his chambers. We went through the hearing, shook hands, and I was out the door.
Afterwards, I took my time in the Courthouse. They’re usually filled with dedications, pictures, and plaques dedicated to judges and lawyers no one outside of these small communities will ever know. They didn’t make their way onto the national stage. They didn’t change the world in any significant way. What they did was make meaningful, important contributions to their community, affecting the lives of the people around them. Lending a helping hand, dedicating their lives to their clients or fellow citizens, serving without need for recognition. Nothing left but a plaque on the wall, stating that they were honorable men and women, left for future lawyers like me to read.
I’ll take that over a high Klout score any day.
Keith Lee practices law at Hamer Law Group, LLC in Birmingham, Alabama. He writes about professional development, the law, the universe, and everything at Associate’s Mind. He is also the author of The Marble and The Sculptor: From Law School To Law Practice (affiliate link), published by the ABA. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @associatesmind.