It is Saturday morning and I’m sitting in our small, tastefully furnished living room in Port Royal. From where I’m sitting I can see my wife, outside, working in the early morning half-light. Susan is wearing black tights and my old, beaten-up bomber jacket.
It is May 7. We are in Port Royal, and I’m astounded that it is cool enough for a bomber jacket.
Next to the windows (in this room) are floor-to-ceiling bookshelves. Some of these bookshelves have books — some first editions — but most are fiction, good stories that I will re-read when I’m troubled or bored.
One of these shelves is given over to medals and small silver cups awarded many years ago for winning an August afternoon boat race. There is also my Dean’s List award from The Citadel; three medals given to my son for pole vaulting; my father’s medal for winning the Ohio State High School Tennis Championship in 1939.
Among this conglomeration are seven little swimmers. Each of these men has a huge head that bobbles and were given to me for winning (my age group) in the YMCA’s annual Beaufort River Swim – a Port Royal to Beaufort open water swim.
These big-headed, Speedo-wearing swimmers — crouched down on a starting block — are partially hidden from view. But I am careful to make several of them visible enough to anyone who visits our living room. Inevitably some guest will spot the swimmers and ask, “What the hell are those things?”
Yes, I admit that I am vain, and need to feed that vanity on a regular basis. Giving a stroke-by-stroke account of these 3-mile races is usually enough to satisfy that re-occurring hunger. And this morning the Wall Street Journal carries front-page story on vanity and companies that seek out America’s best lawyers recognizing these litigators with a plaque.
“Demand for these plaques is considerable — at least judging from the array of companies offering them. Among them are “Best Attorneys of America,” “America’s Top Fifty Lawyers,” “America’s Top 100 Attorneys,” and “America’s Best Advocates.” So heated is the industry of professional superlatives in the legal sector that even the phrase best lawyer is entangled in litigation.
Some believe this award-giving industry requires regulation. “It can be tricky to tell whether an award is earned through merit of is simply a marketing ploy,” says an FTC Consumer Alert.
But I happen to believe that most lawyers are plagued with self-doubt. I think that it is important to generate some recognition that re-enforces the notion that one’s work has value; that one will not die without leaving a small, positive footprint on the beach.
Today there are one million lawyers in the United States so the competition is fierce.
But if one can find a small, rarely visited corner of the profession (notary public malpractice), and became skilled in that area, one can legitimately seek a wooden plaque with a judge’s gavel attached to it. But finding a niche, say nursing home, gender-reassignment or name change law is essential in this increasingly complicated, specialized legal landscape.
Recently, for example, i was in an assisted-living facility and noticed that just about every resident used a motorized wheelchair — more of a scooter — to navigate miles of empty corridors with no signage or any effort at traffic control. I wondered how often collisions happened and whether or not there were injuries. Eventually I decided that few of these free-wheeling seniors carried scooter insurance and, in any case, a wooden plaque was unlikely.
The Wall Street Journal ended its piece on awards by telling us about Jeffrey L. Mendelman who says he is the “Best Lawyer Alive” and has trademarked the phrase with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
When I realized that “Best Lawyer Alive” was out of reach, I wondered about categories. Perhaps“Best Balding, Distracted, Slightly Overweight Lawyer Living in a Cool, Coastal, Far From Ordinary Community” was still available?
The more I thought about self-generated awards, the more I realized that just about every accolade involves some hyperbole. As I though about this my eyes wandered back to one of my bobble-headed swimmers.
If one reads the little plaque beneath the Speedo-wearing swimmer it says; “First Place in the 70-75 age category.” But if memory serves I think I was the only entrant in that age category.
That particular fact never makes it into the narrative.
Scott Graber is a lawyer, novelist, veteran columnist and longtime resident of Port Royal. He can be reached at email@example.com.