Tuesday, May 14, 2013

What Does Age Got To Do With It?

         There is a proliferation of bar associations and their subset "bar sections."  They are multiplying like bacteria on Viagra.  I thought it was distinction enough to be lawyer, to have passed the bar examination, enabling one to practice in most any field and join a specialty bar association, even before one knows anything about the specialty. 

         We have bar associations named after the field in which its members claim expertise.  And many lawyers belong to more than one specialty bar association.  What does a specialist in Admiralty Law know about Cyberspace Law or Fashion and Apparel Law?  Yes, there is such a specialty.  We also have bar associations bearing the names of countries, geographic regions large and small, and the ethnic and cultural backgrounds of its members.  I appreciate the pride one takes in his or her heritage, but the Left-Handed Lawyers with Type AO Blood Bar Association may be carving out a niche too narrow. 
         In a similar vein, the Los Angeles County Bar Association boasts a large list of special sections.  There is a relatively new section for the aged, the Senior Lawyers.  Members of the section asked me to be the emcee for their "Trailblazers" awards program last year.  The Senior Lawyers sought me because I was "a natural."  I was highly offended.  I thought they were from the "Senile Lawyers" section.  I expected the event to include dinner at 4:30, bingo after the speeches, and Jello for dessert.  I was wrong about that.   

         One has to place the moniker "senior" in context.  It often signifies an unmistakable cache when, for example, it precedes the word "partner."  Not so often the case when it precedes "account representative" or "service advisor."  But even when "senior" signifies prestige, such status is evanescent.  It vanishes at the crossing of an inevitable time line; the senior partner acquires a new epithet:  "retired" senior partner. 

         I admit I am sensitive about the "age thing."  In one of my columns, I wrote that I was in my seventh decade when, in fact, I am in my eighth.  I was "jumped" into the AARP.  I turned them into the authorities for possible prosecution as a gang, but the judge who denied my motion for injunctive relief was a charter member.  True, I have been a member of AARP for 20 years and I do enjoy the discounts.  It is just so irritating the way they hound you to join, even before you are eligible.  They recruit when you become old enough to vote.  An elderly gentleman knocked on my door and tricked me into signing a membership application under the pretense that I would receive a free subscription to the Watchtower.

         The courthouse where I try to figure out what young lawyers are writing about in their briefs is in Ventura, a few blocks from the fairgrounds.  Now and then I go to the annual Ventura County Fair to see the pig races.  I will tell you about the pig races in a minute.  But first a little about the disturbing incident at the ticket booth.  I approached the booth, which is a kind of cage, and told the large, pleasant ticket lady seated behind the bars that separated us that I wished to purchase a ticket.  I surmised she was in her mid-50's.  (Although her age might have marginal relevance to my narrative, I mention it because she could well have belonged to AARP.)  She smiled broadly and tore off a small red ticket from her roll of tickets.  Note this fair has a definite 1940's atmosphere to it.  The perceptive reader might have gathered as much from the very mention of a pig race. 

         The ticket lady told me the price of admission.  It was markedly below the listed admission price.  I immediately informed her that she had undercharged me.  She smiled a good-natured, grandmotherly smile and said, "You get the senior discount."  Needless to say, I was incensed.  I inquired, "Wouldn't you like to see my driver's license?"  Can you believe it?  She broke into peals of laughter.  She told me to "go on into the fair, honey," and enjoy myself.  She reminded me there were several benches throughout the fairgrounds.  I was furious, but my mood brightened at the prospect of watching the pig races.
         The fair has many attractions.  I love to talk to the kids who belong to the 4-H clubs and hear about their goats, cows, lambs and hogs.  And there is a terrific hypnotist.  I asked him to come to one of our conferences at the court.  I thought he could help me get another vote, but he refused.  But as I mentioned, the pig races truly capture my attention.  At the starting bell, little piglets race around a miniature track and spectators like me cheer them on.  We place informal bets and the winner gets a generous helping of corn meal.  I cannot say what the winning piglet gets.  What do the pig races have to do with seniors?  Good question.  I mention it only because I think it is beside the point that the spectators are mostly little kids and seniors. 

         At the Trailblazers awards program last year, the Senior Lawyers honored two highly distinguished members of the legal profession, Presiding Justice Joan Dempsey Klein and Attorney Nowlan Hong.  All agree that they each had earned their distinguished stripes before and after they were assigned senior status.  All agree they are no less or more worthy of our respect because they have Medicare Cards. 

         And last week at this year's Trailblazers awards program, I was the emcee for honorees Supreme Court Justice Joyce Kennard and Attorney Patricia Phillips.  The appellation "senior" applies more to their achievements than to their age. 

         When Justice Kennard was a child, she was interned with her mother in a Japanese prison camp in New Guinea during World War II.  Her inspiring journey to the United States eventually led to her appointment to the California Supreme Court where she distinguishes herself as a precise and eloquent writer no matter what the issue or subject matter.
         Patricia Phillips is one of our premier family attorneys.  She opened, then unhinged the doors that had been closed to women lawyers for so many years.  She became the Los Angeles County Bar's first female president in 1984, and proved beyond all doubt that women in high places do great things.  After Ms. Phillips' term of office, just look at the women who rose to leadership roles in the local bar associations and in the State Bar. 

         Pat told me that being a "senior" in the legal profession is like a medicine, a good tonic to give us renewed energy and vigor.  I agree, but sometimes when I realize that I am a "senior," I hear in the recesses of my brain a low-pitched voice rapidly uttering warnings like what one hears in a television ad for a prescription medicine:  "may cause extreme depression, sudden mood changes, hives, jittery nerves, suicidal tendencies, fear of heights, depths, open and closed spaces, German Shepherds, and Shepard's Citations."

         But when that happens, I know how to get in a good mood.  I go to the pig races and cheer them on.   

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