It’s Free – Or is it?

“It’s in those quiet little towns, at the edge of the world, that you will find the salt of the earth people who make you feel right at home.”
― Aaron Lauritsen, 100 Days Drive: The Great North American Road Trip

True story. Several years ago my wife and I were traveling to Denver from northern Michigan where I was to give a presentation regarding a book that I authored. We were pulling a travel trailer which we would be staying in through the winter months after our stop in Denver. It was mid October. We often keep an eye out for the weather as this was our first time pulling a trailer and we wanted to avoid hazardous weather conditions. While passing through Kansas, we saw that a storm was approaching the Denver area with freezing temperatures and icy conditions predicted during the time of our arrival. To avoid it, I called ahead and asked if it would be possible to do a remote telecast and they said that would be agreeable with them. This meant that we had to divert to the south to avoid that weather system and we ended up traveling all the way to El Paso, Texas over the next few days to stay above freezing temperatures. But our immediate problem was where to stay for the night as we didn’t have reservations and it was getting dark. We were in a small village of maybe 500 people. I told my wife we could park almost anywhere in that village, but I didn’t want to get a knock on the door by a local sheriff at three in the morning telling us we had to move. So as we were parked on the street trying to decide what to do, a couple came across the street where we had stopped and asked if they could help us.

We described our situation and they told us that there was a county owned campsite down the street which was located on a small lake with full electrical, water and sewer hookups. We thanked them and headed down the street where we saw four or five campers parked beside the lake at the campground they described. As I pulled up closer to the parking spots, I saw a hippie looking gentleman standing beside his well-worn pickup truck with a camper on it that had obviously traveled with that truck as long as the truck was on the road. As I approached, he stepped up to my open window and offered to help. I asked how the campsites were managed, where I pay and who do I speak with about renting a site for the night. He looked at me and then pointed to some boxes on a post at the corner of the lots. He then said, ” Hey, man! I have been parked here for three days, and, and, you are supposed to take an envelop with your lot number and put some cash in it. But there are no envelopes and nobody comes to check you paid.” At that point, he almost jumped up and down and waived his arms ecstatically saying, “Its freeee, man, its freeeee!!!” To him, the fact that he didn’t have to pay made that campsite a perfect fit for his situation. My wife and I traveled all through that winter with our trailer and whenever I encountered something that was a deal or didn’t cost anything, I would waive my arms and say, “Its freeeee, its freeeee!!

The truth was that someone had paid taxes or made contributions to put in place that great little campground that we happened on. In addition, the couple who came across the street to help us couldn’t have had better timing and been more generous and helpful.

So many times we have encountered situations which made us feel very lucky. So it is that we have arrived where we are, in part, due to hard work and circumstances that allowed us to take advantage of opportunities that others did not enjoy. As someone who has been able to attend law school after four years of undergraduate work, you have accomplished something that many people would envy. I am sure it was due to many long hours of study and discipline to get to this point. And you deserve to reap the rewards of that effort as it will take a great deal more effort to earn a comfortable living after passing the Bar and finding an area of practice that is right for you. You have “won the lottery of life” as I once heard a commentator say (I can’t remember the author’s name but I thought it was a great way to describe the circumstances many of us experience.)

Here’s the thing. You got here and hopefully you will experience the degree of success many before you have as well. As you cross the threshold of independence and financial security, don’t forget to give back to those who this profession has evolved to help. I hope you exercise discipline when selecting clients so that you get paid the full amount that you bill your clients and don’t fall prey to individuals who seek your services with no intention of ever paying your bill. We call that pro bono by mistake. I encourage you to engage in careful client acquisition so that you get paid what is owed to you. If you do that, you will be able to find the time to provide services to individuals in need at no charge, or at reduced charges. Set aside time and do volunteer work. If you do, you will find that the rewards are some of the most gratifying rewards that you will ever encounter.

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