The Silver Anniversary of my law practice

Posted Sunday, November 18th, 2018 by Gregory Forman
Filed under Miscellaneous, Not South Carolina Specific, Of Interest to Family Law Attorneys

Today, November 18, 2018, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of opening my own law practice. It was a somewhat compelled decision that ended up being among the most consequential–and best–of my life. A quarter century of doing anything encourages reflection. This blog is my attempt to share insights into the path from hopeful-but-terrified greenhorn to contented (and hopefully not-too-smug) graybeard.

One insight is that I would not have been successful if a number of attorneys, and one family court judge, had not devoted many hours to mentoring me on the proper practice of law. Substance I could teach myself, but these folks were a catalyst to my rapid growth in the strategic and procedural aspects of law, and to professionalism in the practice. Early in my career older attorneys would often lecture younger attorneys (and I mean this in both an informal sense and in the sense of actual continuing education hours) about the decline in civility and professionalism in the practice. I thought these lectures absurd. If anyone was responsible for this decline–which I haven’t noticed during my career–it wasn’t the young attorneys being lectured to but the older attorneys doing the lecturing. It’s the responsibility of established attorneys to teach new attorneys civility and professionalism. So a continued appreciation for Dawes Cooke, The Honorable Wayne M. Creech, Susan Dunn, Conrad Falkiewicz, Sally King-Gilreath, and John T. Taylor.

Even greater thanks go out to William J. (Jack) Hamilton, III, and Nicholas J. Clekis. Jack was the first attorney friend I made in Charleston and he was instrumental in helping me meet other lawyers and find clients. He held my hand as I handled my first contested hearings. Nick is the reason I actually opened this practice. He offered me half-price rent for six months, loaned me money to purchase office furniture and a computer, and tossed me his overflow for the first four years. While numerous attorneys mentored me, I would not have gone into solo practice but for Jack and Nick. I remain forever grateful. To the extent I devote much time to mentoring less experienced attorneys, it’s because I know I developed into a lawyer who enjoyed the practice only because others devoted much time to mentoring me.

One reason I am so grateful is that, until I opened this practice–approximately two years after I first became licensed in Pennsylvania–I was gravely concerned that I enjoyed law school but hated lawyering. My first two associate positions were awful for completely different reasons. In my first associate position, I was overwhelmed by a demanding boss who provided little guidance. My second position I had a charming boss but the position was a horrible fit, with his practice being volume oriented with little variety and a high value on being a people pleaser. Not my skill set. I didn’t last a year in either position. Thus, the second lesson I would offer younger attorneys is that it may take a while to find the proper fit of one’s interests and skill sets to one’s practice but one should not be discouraged by early failures.

The final insight is that solo or small firm practice can be every bit as valuable and invigorating as big law. I’m not sure whether it was attending law school in a big city (Philadelphia) or just when I attended (1988-91) but the assumption was that top students would go into clerkships, academia, or big law, and that small firm practice was for those who lacked the “credentials” for “desirable” positions. The South Carolina legal community doesn’t share this viewpoint. Some of the best practitioners and happiest lawyers I know are in one or two person operations. Retail law, and the satisfaction of getting to know the folks you are helping and helping them in clearly observable ways, does not need to be stultifying or uncreative. While law school might have seen small firm/retail law as a lessor option, my experience teaches otherwise.

My wife started law school in August and, if all goes as planned, she will graduate and become licensed exactly thirty years after I did. I was not the only local attorney who encouraged her to attend law school–but I was one of them. If a newly licensed attorney can find his or her niche within the law and find a legal community in which he or she enjoys practicing, law can be a most satisfying career. Twenty-five years ago, there was no certainty I would have such a career. So a big thanks to everyone named above, who were instrumental to my having a happy legal career.

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