A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how great Public Defenders are. I argued that given all they tolerate in performing their job, they must do it for love of the work. Deep down inside, they must be driven by a desire to help people in desperate need.
Now, I turn the lens around and look at myself and other Chicago criminal defense lawyers. I don't know how other markets operate. I don't know how much a lawyer in Dallas can charge for a drug possession case. I don't know the going rate for a murder defense in San Francisco. But I know Chicago. And I know that none of us CDL's are rich or even getting close.
In fact, we Chicago CDL's practice in the armpit of the law. I am not trying to make us sound exclusive or elite. Far from it. I imagine in other areas of the country where street crime is a problem, the job for a defense attorney is quite similar.
In an economic time where a lot of attorneys I know have expanded the types of cases they accept, I have done the exact opposite. For whatever reason, I have practiced myself into a corner limiting myself to less than 10 crimes I handle. If you read here, you know what they are.
The people getting arrested for the crimes I handle do not have a lot of money, thus I can only charge so much. I quickly learned where the market is and adjusted my practice accordingly. My overhead is extremely low.
Whatever notions or mis-perceptions I had about lawyers as a child are long gone. In the game of Life, the attorney's salary is second to only the doctor's. Growing up, I assumed all lawyers were rich. But I know union workers that make much more money than I do. And they have really nice benefits, whereas I have health insurance to cover a catastrophe and not much else.
Don't get me wrong, I am not complaining. I have a roof over my head. Clothes to wear. Food to eat. And a reasonable vacation a year. Not too shabby for a kid from South 13th Street in Springfield. I honestly didn't enter the practice of law just to be rich. I knew I could make a living doing it and nothing more. That was good enough for me. I have never had the drive to be wealthy. If you've never had it, you never know it's missing.
Next year I turn 40. I have little to no retirement money. My portfolio is limited to pictures. And I own no real property. Just some books really. And some old smelly running shoes.
I see the television commercials from financial companies like Charles Schwab preaching about planning for retirement. The one with the middle age guy in the diner IM'ing about how retirement talk has gone from "When we retire" to "If we retire" really strikes me. I don't know from where my next dollar is coming. Retirement planning seems like quantum mechanics. And I am terrible at high level math.
I dream of fleeing West. The mountains are calling me. But what am I going do to when I get there? Become the town lawyer of some small, rural mountain side city? How many shooting cases will I get out there? Robberies? Burglaries? I will probably have to become a real life Atticus Finch and there's nothing wrong with that.
Anywhere but here, having such a limited practice would bring starvation. Well maybe I could survive in Atlanta. Perhaps D.C. Los Angeles. Miami. Detroit. But none of those are anywhere close to where I want to live.
I want a simple home. One story ranch. A small porch. A rocking chair. And a view that could inspire art of many forms. I want my dog. My cats. A couple of horses. Maybe even a pick-up truck.
And if I have to work until the day I die to have and keep that dream, it will be worth it.
Scrivening wills can't be that bad.