It’s gone now, but I remember clearly the coffee shop where we used to gather in the mornings to brace ourselves for the day and generally shoot the shit with each other. We were a shifting set of players from nearby law firms. There was a hierarchy, of course, that mirrored firm politics. The old guys had the central seats, the up-and-comers pulled in close, and the newbies struggled on the edges, trying to hear and hoping to participate.
We talked about cases, opponents and (guardedly) our clients, both good and bad. Certain questions could be tossed out and answers vetted, and whether you might really know something would be revealed. We shared frustrations, successes and the occasional apologue (“Ah, yes, I remember it well. It was on a day not unlike today … ”).
As a newbie, I hungered for the old guys’ stories — the legendary victories and crushing defeats. I could visualize the hardened, unresponsive judge who seemed to ignore every piece of evidence or argument; the smirk on the opposing attorney’s face as it turned to angst when the judge finally ruled. My fears matched those of the earlier attorneys fighting a power outage to file a last-minute appeal on one of the biggest cases the firm ever had.
All in all, it was an easy, informal way to build community. I got to know other attorneys in a way that never seemed to work in more formal settings, and I learned a lot about my place in the world, then and since.
That Doesn’t Seem to Happen Much Anymore
People rush into Starbucks, grab their mega Italian-named beverages and scurry off. The ones who do sit down spend their time tickling the screen of their electronic devices, communicating with the world out there from their own secluded space. Work gets done, information is shared. But somehow I feel left out again — like that newbie sitting on the edge of the crowd, trying to hear the stories.
Nowadays, though, it’s the kids who seem to have created a community. And I’m not shielded from it by the up-and-comers, but by technology.
I often sit and watch the play around the room as information flows from device to device, person to person, sometimes with a chuckle or sigh, but little verbal exchange. I have a basic smartphone and generally can receive and make calls, plus check the weather when I need to. Occasionally someone will show me a video, or play a song or comedian’s riff, and sometimes we’ll read an article or “post” together and talk about what it means. This technology-fed community I sit just off the edge of is not limited to the few people around the table, but includes people all across the country, and sometimes, the world. It’s a vast network of common interests, shared ideas and emotions, and information.
But there is this other little place around the corner from the office where the waitress who looks my age calls us “hon,” and the coffee is strong and either too hot or too cold. The tables are scratched and stained and have never seen the likes of a basil honeychip scone. Us old guys can gather and bitch about the youngsters and their lack of a work ethic, and we can swap stories and lies without anyone Googling it to check the facts.
Sure, a new community has taken over, and could be it’s not so bad. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll get me a faster phone or tablet or P-Pod or hotspot or whatever I need to stay in touch.
Who knows, it’s a new day.
Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs at Attorney at Work.