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Senior LawyersThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Section on Senior Lawyers

June 2011, vol. 2, no. 1

Seniors, don’t sell your law practice. Have fun!

Many bar publications, and even the Illinois Supreme Court Rules, have addressed the sale of law practices. This article reviews keeping your law practice alive and having some FUN. I will get back to the fun part.

The first advice to the class of 2011 is to marry the right person and have several children. One or more of your children will join your law practice after law school and a stint with a high volume public defender, states attorney or insurance defense firm. Your young lawyer will have had trial, jury, court and disappointment experience. Before we talk more about your children joining your law firm, make sure you are satisfied with your chosen career. Think back to your teenage years. When did you decide to become a lawyer?

I made the decision when I was a high school freshman. We were dairy farmers and we milked cows before and after school. A cow would switch its wet tail across your face, as you sat on a three legged stool listening to the Sears Silvertone radio. You would dream about a better career. Most of the Class of 1950 had difficult jobs and dreamed of a better life. My friend and co-worker, the late John Polales, drove a taxi cab. Polales kept a picture of himself, standing beside his cab, on his law office wall to remind him of his prior career. Think how much better the practice of law has been, over a career of milking cows or driving a cab.

As a high school freshman, my father had me attend a complete jury trial. It was a dramshop case tried at the Kane County Court House. The plaintiff’s attorneys were working on a contingent fee basis. The award was large enough that the plaintiff’s attorneys would be able to buy two new Buicks. Trying a jury case beat milking cows and the goal of being a trial lawyer was born for me at that moment. Twenty-five years ago, my son Mark joined our law firm after being with the United States Attorney’s and States Attorney’s offices. There are dozens of Illinois law firms that have generational law practices. The lawyers in these offices have the pleasure of working with their children (and some with grandchildren) on a daily basis. This is the first and best reason not to sell your practice.

Even if you have no child to step into your office, working with young, recently admitted lawyers is fun, keeps you mentally active and is a personal pleasure. Because of your years of experience, the young lawyers come to you for your insight and advice. It is up to you to keep up on the law; read the daily ISBA clips, the Law Bulletin, newsletters and Illinois Bar Journal articles. Seldom does a week go by that there is not some article that directly affects a case in our office. The Internet and ISBA discussion groups bring interaction on important (and sometimes not so important) current topics that relate to your law practice. To sell your practice and sit home is the biggest mistake of your life. Find some young people and keep working. If you cannot associate with a young lawyer, put your legal skills to work with CARPLS, Land of Lincoln, Prairie State or some other legal service organization.

Now for the fun part. With the keys to the corner office turned over to my son Mark, my wife and I have time to spend on some fun things. Many of the articles directed at seniors deal with estate planning, tax avoidance, and ways to keep the government from sharing in your estate. Work on spending your money and having fun. Your children will not truly appreciate your sacrifices building up an estate. Your children will probably spend your estate foolishly as soon as you are gone. Consider the following instead:

Travel. You can go to Starved Rock or Ulan Bator. We chose Ulan Bator in a round the world trip—not with a tour group but on our own. The most fascinating part of the trip was from Beijing, China to Irkuts, Siberia, Russia by train. It was not a fancy tourist train. On this trip, we bought our rail tickets at the ticket window in Beijing, and boarded the train with the locals. We took a suitcase half filled with food. Ulan Bator is in Mongolia and just about on the opposite side of the world from Illinois. The big cost of our trip was airfare from Chicago to Beijing and from Paris to Chicago. (If you go, take along a bike cable and lock so you can lock your compartment door at night).

If a trip around the world is not on your radar, go to countries where there is some unrest. Tourists avoid these places and you will have no trouble getting a hotel room and meals. The ISBA had a combination trip to Greece and Turkey some years ago. By the time the plane lifted off from O’Hare, half the ISBA travelers had cancelled because a war had erupted between Greece and Turkey. Many of the remaining passengers deplaned in Dubrovnik. My wife and I and two other couples went on to Athens and we had Greece all to ourselves, free of tourists.

Traveling to eastern Europe (before the wall came down), Israel and South American countries, where there was unrest, left us with great memories and very little risk. Now tourists are avoiding Mexico. Ixtapa is free of gunfire and a condo there overlooking a Pacific sunset is a beautiful travel destination with perfect weather.

Rome is an historical as well a religious center. Of our five trips to Rome, the best was when we rented an apartment on the internet for two weeks. My wife gave me a book that listed 25 places not to miss in Rome. Every day we visited at least two sites until we had covered 24 of the 25 suggestions.

Our son (and my boss) Mark does charitable classic overseas concert tours every summer. We have followed him to Russia, Austria, France, Israel and other equally fascinating places. These tours, like ISBA trips, often have themes that add fun to the trip.

If the budget is limited, or you are determined to leave a few dollars for your children to share with the IRS, consider local travel. For many years, we have attended the ISBA meeting at Lake Geneva. We have camped with our Airstream at Big Foot State Park in Lake Geneva and traveled to Fontana for the ISBA meetings (and the cocktail receptions). This is an inexpensive and fun short holiday. For longer trips, we have gone with the Airstream on several Civil War tours and other camping trips throughout the United States. The people you meet, and the places you see, are fun and interesting.

Bar Association Activities. In the early years of practice, attention was directed at trying cases and paying bills. Little attention was given bar association activities except paying dues. One day Mark said he was going to run for the ISBA Assembly. Even though I had joined the ISBA on June 19, 1950, I had to ask: what is the Assembly? I decided to run against Mark for the Assembly. The loser had to buy lunch. Mark won by six votes and my interest in ISBA activities began. My regret is that I did not become involved much earlier in my career. I joined ISBA committees, wrote for newsletters, and even wrote some chapters for IICLE books. The highlight of my ISBA career was being chosen as a member of the Illinois Bar Foundation. The IBF supports dozens of charitable organizations that are related to the provision of legal services. We secured over $200,000 from farm aid funds to be used for agriculturally-related legal services. We teamed with the University of Illinois and Land of Lincoln to continue to support the legal needs of farmers. Many state-wide friendships were developed through the ISBA. It is part of the “fun” of the practice of law.

Other Interests. Having another interest, outside the field of law, will increase your life expectancy. Many lawyers have another hobby that takes their minds off the law. Illinois lawyers have as many outside interests as there are businesses in the Yellow Pages. My son Mark spends his time on charitable classic international piano concerts. My outside fun is farming. I am a grain farmer in Kane and DeKalb Counties. As a grain farmer, I buy seed, fertilizer and everything else needed for the crop. We plant, watch the grain market, forward sell, harvest and arrange to have the crop trucked to the elevator. All this activity keeps my wife and I on our toes. An operation this size may not be for every attorney, but a garden plot where you can raise everything from tomatoes to zucchini is a fun substitute that is good for the soul.

Support Your Law School. Northwestern Law School was good to me. When my GI Bill ended, Northwestern gave me the last semester of law school free. I have tried to pay it back. One of the fun “pay backs” is interviewing students and being a Moot Court judge. A connection with your law school can provide great rewards. You can help the school and the students at the same time. For me this has been fun.

Writing. As time-consuming as it is, writing is “fun” in a different way. Once your topic is identified, it is up to you to develop your thesis in such a way that the reader will find your writing interesting and topical, and (sometimes) persuasive. As a senior in your law firm, you have more time to write an article for the Journal, a newsletter article, or a CLE chapter. You need not be Shakespeare to write. It does take time to do the research for any writing but, when the writing is finished and published, there is great personal pride in the publication. To see that writing in print with your by-line is “fun.”

Each of you has a lot of miles left on your odometer. Do not sell your law practice. Those miles can be “fun.” In my case, and probably yours, the practice of law has been a lot more fun than being hit in the face twice a day with a wet cow tail. ■

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John Damisch is a 60-year member of the ISBA. He is an active lawyer as a principal with the law firm of Damisch & Damisch, Ltd., Chicago. He is a member of the Assembly; Agricultural and Senior Law Section Councils, and a past board member of the Illinois Bar Foundation. He is also an active grain farmer in northern Illinois.


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