UnScrooged: It’s Not All About the Money

Given the time during which this month’s topic is posited, the enterprising communal blogger can move in one of two directions, writing about: (1) a fantastic financial tip or two, including, perhaps, some end-of-the-year tax advice; or, (2) what would amount to a contrarian approach, respecting the value of other things (as yet undefined) over money.  My frequent delight is taking the contrarian position; and, this post will represent nothing different from what has gone before.

Christmas movies take a wide and consistent stance against the intrinsic value of money.  See: Mr. Potter’s an old scoundrel, and those who give their money away to save George Bailey are the real heroes (of course, there’s a contrarian view for that, as well); Ebenezer Scrooge’s greatest triumph is crowned by his purchase of a Christmas turkey for the Cratchit family; Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree is cheap and lame, but becomes something rather spectacular, even a showpiece, through the combined charities of his friends; and, etc.  Certainly, there’s a lesson here.

Most folks this holiday season, business persons and lay persons alike, are focused on the bottom line.  Certainly, there’s some merit there.  The economy remains in the tank; costs are continually shifted to the consumer/the governed, when very little ability to pay exists to begin with; budgets are strained, and saving is difficult, if not impossible; and, etc.  The most successful members of the general public (in a new world where, perhaps, success is redefined as ‘living within one’s means’) are those who pinch pennies, and never pay full freight (hence the interest in television shows like TLC’s “Extreme Couponing”).

But, a constant fixation on the bottom line, and a determined and perpetual vigilance over each and every debit and credit, or quarter spent for laundry, can be an unhealthy obsession, increasing stress and worry, and dulling a greater sensibility of what in the world retains its value beyond dollar figures.

It can be a struggle to be a solo or small firm attorney, absolutely.  And, it’s very easy to make the decision to force yourself to justify everything you do in relation to what it costs you, or what it makes you.  But, that’s not the only way to determine the relative success or failure of your endeavors.

Earlier this year, I was on a CLE panel with a senior attorney; and, I ended up speaking with her afterwards.  She told me that one thing that she found troubling about the junior attorneys that she would mentor was that they only seemed to care about money, and that their only, apparent, motivations were financial ones.  (Certainly, a generalization, and an easy one to make, perhaps, when you’re established, and have, potentially, a diminished need for consistent, even subsistence, income; but, let’s let that slide for now, there’s a valuable point here:) She proceeded to tell me that, while she was certainly interested in making money, and supporting her family, that, without doubt, her most rewarding experiences in the law were those that were undertaken without regard for remuneration.

Pro bono cases; reduced rate cases; cases where there was little prospect of victory, but the promise of a good, the just fight . . . all of these things were, to her, in the light of experience, significantly more valuable than the client files that had paid her best.

Of course, you must be paid at a rate that is commensurate with the value of the services that you provide within the marketplace; but, that value figure can be toggled, and you may wish, from time to time, to take that special case that promises, beyond a cash value, something perhaps more important: an opportunity for professional and personal development that you will end up cherishing far more deeply than dollar signs passing into, and then out of, your accounts, and your hands.

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