Why is it Ok for WV Lawyers to “Live it Up” at the Greenbrier?
Last year, at my first meeting of the board of governors of the West Virginia State Bar, I learned this year’s meeting would be at the famous Greenbrier Resort. I knew that was a meeting I would not have to ask Nancy twice to attend.
As I heard of rising unemployment and a state budget shortfall, I wondered about the symbolism of “fat-cat lawyers living it up”.
1. Having finished our first overnights’ stay at the Greenbrier, I can unequivocally say I think it was the right thing to do, and here is why.
2. On a personal note, I was thrilled to meet the two winners of our West Virginia Department of Education and State Bar video competition and to see them properly honored, and to view their videos with my colleagues.
3. It is meetings such as this, and the meetings of the West Virginia Association for Justice, and the State continuing education seminars, that I truly appreciate being a member of a fine profession.
4. There are some “fat-cats” at all of these meetings, but the majority are smaller firms, hard-working, dedicated, and struggling, professionals.
5. On Monday I was privileged to attend a seminar session that resulted in a standing ovation. The title was “Transitioning Lawyers”, and the subject was the challenges to lawyers with health, substance-abuse, and impairment, challenges. Our speaker was from North Carolina which has established an aggressive program for helping “lawyers in transition” including the normal transition from active practice to retirement, aging lawyers, impaired lawyers (alcohol, drugs, and mental deterioration). He shared his personal story that he is 18 months into a battle with stage four renal cancer.
6. He asked for comments, and I stood and recommended a book, “Aging Well“, by George Vaillant, http://tinyurl.com/jm5r37a. And, although I have no plans for retiring in the foreseeable future, I recommended to my colleagues’ Fujitsu Scansnap scanners at every workstation and mentioned how my staff had scanned essential documents out of approximately 2000 files and sent to the commercial shredder 250 bankers boxes, and how we have not taken a paper file to the upstairs storage in seven years. These are the kind of ideas that I attend seminars to get, and to give.
7. It is always good to reconnect with old friends and acquaintances and to meet new ones, because Networking is essential, especially for small and Sole Practitioner & Small Firm Section.
8. Although the lawyers in West Virginia are struggling, and few of them find time, or have the inclination, to attend these professional meetings, these meetings are more important than ever. Perhaps our profession is not as much “at risk” as the check-out clerks at Wall-Mart and Kroger’s, but the legal profession will change profoundly during the next 10 years, and the major professional organizations should be proactive in dealing with, and promoting, positive change.
9. It is always popular to bash lawyers. In fact, The President, in this morning’s press conference, bashed us for helping big corporations move corporate offices to other countries. No politician is going to lose votes by bashing lawyers. Yet the fact is lawyers exist at every point of conflict in our society and civilization. Criminal defense and prosecution, personal injury, corporate organization, taxation, environmental issues, consumer protection, constitutional issues, wildlife protection, everything, requires the analytical approach, and advocacy, of lawyers.
10. By many standards, the members of this profession or more miserable than most, so public promotion of ourselves as reasonably prosperous and happy cannot hurt. As a friend said, “We work hard, and deserve an occasional break”. I agree.
11. Those of us on professional boards work pretty hard at these meetings, some of which last several hours, and, more importantly, between meetings. We volunteer for committees, agree to write amicus briefs to the WV Supreme Court, spread the word on important issues, and argue vigorously among ourselves.
12. The legal profession receives criticism for being self-policing, and we will not always have this privilege. Many forces are attempting to provide legal services without the requirement of a law license. As a person who loves change, I am not afraid of this. I have written many articles on the subject of improving our ability to provide services at reasonable cost, and reducing the percentage of self-represented parties. So far, most of my advice has gone unheeded.
13. We need to do more than try to fight off the forces of change, and to try to understand them, and integrate new efficiencies into the delivery of legal services. Such transitions are important and require deep thought.
14. Professional meetings and seminars give us an opportunity to take a step back and assess her ourselves and our practices. We like to pretend we are “bullet-proof”, but we have to give thought to what will happen if we have that heart attack or cancer diagnosis. It is also important to participate so that, when colleagues falter, we can be robust enough to lend a hand and do our part. In short, lawyers need to know how to make a profit and be relevant
15. Almost invariably, the attorney who never attends such meetings, and only rarely takes a CLE course, seems to be more isolated, less caring of colleagues, and less impactful, than those who reach out.
16. Finally, on the subject of the Greenbrier as a venue, one session was presented by the Greenbrier’s historian, after which we took the tour of “The Bunker”, designed to be a fall-out shelter for the U.S. Legislature during nuclear war .
17. Our tour guide recommended five or six books on the subject of the building of the bunker and the Cold War. It occurred to me that “The Donald” should read every one of those books and should be made to attend the tour.
18. While we kid ourselves to think that we are no longer vulnerable to extinction, the period of the Cold War was especially risky time in which two powerful nations had achieved “mutually assured destruction”. We still have enough missiles aimed at one another to do the job.
Finally, we hear about the Greenbrier in the news, especially sports news, all the time. But, visiting it reveals that it is a remarkable place, a separate world, an island in the mountains. It is uniquely different from the rest of the State but still of the state, especially when busloads of wounded warriors and gospel singers show up.
At a time of great crisis, with rising poverty, drug addiction, suicides, problems with our educational system and a crisis in our political system, it was nice to find something in West Virginia to be positive about. I will not be voting for Jim Justice for governor, but he certainly has a nice little hotel.
This post was written by Burton Hunter