While I was enjoying brunch with friends yesterday at The Wild Onion on St. Paul’s Grand Avenue, Kenny Roger’s The Gambler played on the background music soundtrack. I wasn’t paying attention until the chorus came up and all of us started to tap our toes and mumble these famous lines:
You've got to know when to hold 'em
Know when to fold 'em
Know when to walk away
And know when to run
You never count your money
When you're sittin' at the table
There'll be time enough for countin'
When the dealin's done
(Full lyrics and video available here.)
You have to admit, it’s a catchy chorus. But more applicable to us, the song tells the story of a cross-generational conversation (on a train) about how to navigate the business of life. While the message is applicable to any “profession,” the concept of the gambler is a remarkably appropriate symbol for lawyers who must navigate make-or-break economic and personal decisions throughout our professional lives. From law school to retirement, lawyers have to make choices that impact their journey through the profession, the practice and the business of law.
- The recent college grad considering law school. Is law school (and by default the legal profession) a good choice right now? What law school should the grad attend – the highest ranked school or the school with the best financial aid package?
- The law student. How hard should the 1L study? How important are those first year grades? Are bar classes more important than clinics or practice-specific courses?
- The private practice associate in a mid-to-large size law firm. How many hours need to be devoted to becoming a partner? Do these associates even want to become partners? How can these associates start a family, build a book of business, become and be a “center of economic activity” with the current unrest in the legal business?
- The mid-career lawyer in private practice. Is there a good time to transition from firm to firm, firm to solo, private practice to in-house, private practice to the bench or government?
- The vintage lawyer. When is the right time to transition out of practice into retirement?
Lawyers are dealt many hands throughout their legal careers. They need to constantly be considering whether to hold, fold, walk away or run away. The irony of The Gambler is that the operative word in the lyric is not “consider,” but “know.” As lawyers, we are trained to research and analyze and apply the law and advocate and problem solve for our clients. We are not trained to know for ourselves. We could all use a train ride to nowhere with the gambler who can tell us what we need to know. We could all use that ace that allows us to win every hand. Absent a train, a bottle, a cigarette and a wise gambler, we have each other and the connections that being a member of the bar association provides.