Under Analysis: Digging in to my law practice - A holiday wish

By Spencer Farris

The holiday season is winding towards its climax, and nowhere is it more apparent than here in the Levison Towers. Vacations have started, both officially and unofficially. The unofficial ones are the best, really. Trips for out of town meetings that conveniently lapse over into an extended stay at a destination desired by the traveler. When a certain associate called to say she was snowed in in Miami, it didn’t go unnoticed. I gave her a tip of the cap for her planning—that kind of weather mishap usually comes to much more experienced lawyers.

The halls around here are covered in Christmas cards. I would use the politically correct “Holiday Cards,” but that name is misleading. I have never gotten a Happy Kwanza card. I did get eight Hanukkah cards one year. Other than that, nothing but Christmas cards.

Sometimes I get the feeling that they aren’t really “Merry Christmas” cards so much as “look how organized and wonderful I am” cards. Really, do I need a form letter insert telling me that your year has been fabulous? The mere fact that you had the organization and discipline to send cards puts you miles ahead of me. In seriousness, I do take joy in the fact that someone remembered me with a card this holiday season. My guilt at failing to do the same is between my therapist and me.

My friend Stuart Thomas is more annoyed by Christmas cards than I am. His gripe is not the cards so much as the pictures of kids that friends and acquaintances include. Like most of us over 40, he doesn’t remember the names of many of these children, let alone have any idea of what to do with the pictures. Should they be framed on our desks, or merely smiled at and discarded? The entire event is disorienting.  But hopefully, Christmas will be easier to bear than Thanksgiving.

This Thanksgiving, while most of you were enjoying turkey and stuffing, I was digging up my septic tank. Not a figurative septic tank as a metaphor for my life (the similarities between digging up a septic tank and practicing law are not hard to see) but actually moving dirt with a shovel and pick.

Although I live in the heart of suburbia, my house is on a septic system rather than the public sewer. Whether this is discrimination against redneck lawyers or testament to the fact that I live out a ways, I don’t know. Unable to call the local sewer company, I was left to fix my problem pioneer style. Which meant trying to find a septic company on Thanksgiving day.

The whole thing started as a slow drain in my kitchen. I had had a discussion with a friend about septic systems a couple of weeks before and diagnosed my sink problem as a septic tank needing to be serviced. Had a physician botched a diagnosis as badly as I did, my fellow lawyers would have lined up to rescue the poor patient. Turns out my slow drain was just a clogged pipe.

In my defense, the septic tank was an easy suspect. It hadn’t been serviced in the 12+ years I’ve lived in the home. Television marketers tell me the right timeframe is 3 to 5 years. Any lawman will tell you that the first suspect should be the oldest known culprit.

The first problem with servicing a septic tank after a decade of neglect is finding that tank. Geek that I am, I was thrilled that the service company had the latest electronic locating equipment. At the end of the day, however, all they had located was my checkbook. At about eight o’clock the company called in an experienced septic consultant who showed up on the scene to tell me where he “thought” the tank was. Then he disappeared into the darkness.

I thought that the going septic company rate of $125 per hour was a bit steep to dig up my backyard. $125 per hour is more than I make most days! (I complained to my brother about this. He said you can go to any bar or restaurant and find someone willing to give you free legal advice. No one will grab a shovel for free. Point made. ) I had an equal number of shovels and teenage sons to work them, so the day after Thanksgiving we commenced to dig.

I admired my predecessors work ethic as the tank itself was located 2 feet beneath the soil. Soil in this case is a slang term for packed clay. Digging stopped after three hours so that we could go buy a pick. An hour and a half later we realized that the tank lid was much bigger than expected and that the discard pile needed to be moved. To our great joy, we located the cleanout directly under the discard pile. Problem solved and digging stopped. I am happy to report the septic tank and my back have now recovered quite nicely.

I am hopeful that this holiday season won’t require any digging. Except perhaps for the piles of paper mounded on my desk. That dirty job can wait till next year.

Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent to this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2010 Under Analysis L.L.C.