As we start the new year, it makes sense to reflect on the past, think about the present, and direct ourselves into the future. In “Against The Wind,” Bob Seger looked back at his past longingly, sad about his present busy life of “deadlines and commitments,” as he sang “wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then.” In my continuing series of blogs about the legal profession inspired by rock songs, I am going to, as Seger also sang, “turn the page” on Bob, and reflect on what I am glad I now know that I wish I had known then.
I was recently asked “What do I wish I had known as a young lawyer?” On reflection, I think the answer involves being honest about who you are. Before entering the legal profession, I had begun a career as an artist, a career I’ve maintained ever since. As a young lawyer, I kept those two worlds very separate. I was afraid that if lawyers knew too much about my art career, they would question my commitment to law, and that if the art world was aware of my deep involvement in the legal profession, people wouldn’t take me seriously as an artist. My law partners were, and remain, supportive of my involvement in the arts, and at one point a few lawyers and I organized an art by lawyers exhibit. But, for the most part, I kept my involvement in these two professions very separate.
I discussed this with my mentor, the wonderful teacher and artist Peter Grippe, of blessed memory. As always, Peter gave me very sage advice: “Don’t ever let anyone make you feel that there is anything wrong with the time you put into either of those careers, they are both valid and important.” He urged me to take them both seriously, and not to worry about how others might think about how I use my time, whether as a lawyer or as an artist.
I gradually became more open about both my professional pursuits. I announce my art exhibits and new paintings to those I know in the legal world, and I make it clear to the people I know in the art world that I practice law. In other words, I have evolved into being honest about who I am, and showing my authentic self. In speaking to young artists during his commencement address for the graduating class of the “University of the Arts,” Neil Gaiman expressed something that applies equally well to young lawyers: “The one thing that you have that nobody else has is you.”
I think that young lawyers could be more expressive of who they are, and that I also could have been when my legal career was starting. We are who we are. As Bernard Baruch said (often attributed to Dr. Seuss), “Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.” To improvise on Seger, that’s what I “know now that I wish what I had known then.”