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Thoughts on Being a Lawyer

Posted by Frank Steinberg | May 10, 2020 | 0 Comments

Of Those to Whom Much Is Given . . .

The following is adapted from my recent President's Message in the Lawyer-Pilots Bar Association  Journal and is offered here in the hope that it may be relevant to a wider audience.  LPBA is "dedicated to aviation safety, the just administration of the law, and continuing legal education."  Some names have been disguised to protect the innocent.

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When I was a student at Seton Hall University Law School I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview for a summer intern position at the Office of the United States Attorney for New Jersey, just down the street from SHULS in Newark, New Jersey.  As I prepared for my interview, I was confounded by one thing: how to handle the inevitable question “how do you like law school”?  Truth be told, I did not like law school very much at all. I found it to be often dry, hyper-technical, and sometimes boring.  It seemed to be a necessary evil, a means to an end.  How could I say that in a job interview without shooting myself in the foot?  

Now, I had read the Bible and knew all about “thou shalt not lie.”  However, I feared that total honesty would shoot down in flames my opportunity for a plum internship, and with it my not-yet-airborne legal career.  After much thought I hit upon what seemed to be the perfect lawyerly solution.  I would equivocate, cleverly hiding my true feelings behind a barrier of feigned enthusiasm.

The big day came.  Wearing my best suit, I sat across a large desk from the Executive Assistant United States Attorney for my home state.  Within minutes the crisis was upon me.  HR  asked, “So Frank, how do you like law school?”  Not to worry.  I was prepared.  “Well Mr. R,” I answered, “I guess I like law school about as much as it's possible to like law school.”  He paused, fixed me with a skeptical gaze, and said “I thought they were the three worst years of my life.”  Those eleven words at once caused me (1) deflation at how easily my deception was pierced, (2) relief with the hope that since the boss-to-be disliked law school, too, I might still get the job, and (3) a real-life reminder that the Bible has it right --- honesty is the best policy.

Despite my clumsy maneuverings I did get the job.  I spent that summer working directly with the United States Attorney on a policy paper addressing a proposed amendment to the New Jersey Constitution, among other things.  

I tell you this true story to illustrate a point about what it means to be a lawyer, and particularly what it means to be a lawyer in the Lawyer Pilots Bar Association.

Years on from my summer with the US Attorney's Office, having made the law my life's work, I still would rather read a Tom Clancy thriller than Blackstone.   However, I now have a deeper understanding of the law and how it can work for and against my clients, an understanding that is supplemented twice annually by the excellent CLE presentations at LPBA meetings.  I better appreciate the ongoing evolution of the law, common and statutory, as it struggles to keep up with a rapidly-evolving society.  And I respect and applaud the efforts of the legal community to understand and anticipate social and technological change and thus help to discern and implement a sensible framework for a just society.
I suspect that I am not alone in this idealistic yet fundamentally practical view of our chosen profession.  The fingers of one hand are more than enough to count the lawyers I have known who love the law as an intellectual exercise. But I would need to borrow the fingers (and toes) of hundreds to count the ways that lawyers contribute to society, both programmatically by working to establish standards of conduct and behavior that conform to constitutional norms, and practically by solving the entanglements that can plague our families, friends, neighbors, and fellow citizens.  Those problems are caused by the frictions that inevitably arise when people interact with each other, with businesses, social and religious institutions, and with government.

Sometimes the frictions are tectonic in scope: progressive clashing with conservative, religious with secular, and the like --- conflicts that are all too familiar in this day and age.  We aerospace lawyers work in a professional realm of smaller scope but considerable importance.  In a country of 330 million there were, in 2018, just 633,000 pilots.  That's less than 2/10's of 1 percent of the total population.  The percentage of lawyer pilots --- those of us with a love of flight, the technical skill to pilot an aircraft, and the training to use the legal system to protect and advance our market segment --- is much smaller still.
But consider the effect that our chosen field has on society as a whole.  I daresay that most of our fellow citizens are interested in the air transportation system exactly to the extent that they find it useful for personal and business travel, and not one bit more.  Nonetheless, our national system of commercial and general aviation is vitally important to society as a whole, just as military aviation is critical to the national defense.  It goes farther still.  Mankind's common aspirations, as President Kennedy foresaw and, as Professor Hawking thought, perhaps our survival as a species, will depend upon our ability to fly into outer space.
These larger issues are among the reasons why LPBA is so important.  Both as a group and individually, we are positioned to play an out-sized role in the continuing development of  aerospace resources for the benefit of our society.  We have the intellectual resources, the professional training, and the personal commitment to affect the ongoing development of sound policy, the aerospace industry, and the rights of the people within it.  LPBA members have a long and distinguished history of doing just that.  Let us consider just two of many examples.
Our most senior member and an LPBA founder told me that one of the founding precepts underlying our association was to train a cadre of lawyers to represent general aviation.  His career, and the six-decade long duration of the association that he nurtured along the way, are testament to how well that founding principle has been honored throughout LPBA's history.  

For much of the 20th century my home state of New Jersey was an aviation pioneer.  As the years have passed and New Jersey has become more densely populated than India, its once-thriving aviation system has labored under demographic, social and political pressures that are likely unique in the nation.  Long-time LPBA member and former President has been the single most important person in the ongoing fight to preserve and enhance the aviation infrastructure of the Garden State.  He was able to do that not just because of his love for and knowledge of aviation, but because he had the intellectual and professional tools to make a difference.  LPBA has been one of those tools.

I tell you these things not to embarrass or single out the aforementioned men.  Both are humble, self-effacing, and would not seek this attention. They have a great deal of company in LPBA members around the country who not only practice aviation law but are in demand to serve as leaders in the aerospace community.

I tell you these things to suggest that one of the unique benefits of membership in LPBA is the example that leaders like them and so many others set for the rest of us.  Our semi-annual meetings provide invaluable opportunities to develop the relationships and participate in the discussions that guide the future, not just of general aviation, but of the entire aerospace enterprise.  Resources like the LPBA Journal provide us with intellectual firepower.  Although the overall reputation of lawyers with the general public is not favorable, the fact remains that in our market segment the industry looks to lawyers for leadership, because lawyers have proven to be trustworthy leaders in the past.  It is our obligation as a bar association to help our members to be fully prepared to accept the mantle of leadership and make good on our shared responsibility.  

Consider another bit of personal history to emphasize the point.  From grades 9 – 12 I was privileged to attend The Pingry School, a private school in New Jersey.  The year my class graduated was also the year that the school's long-time Headmaster, Charles Atwater, retired.  His graduation address to my class was in a way his own valedictory.  While I do not remember all that he said, three words remain as clear in my memory as the day I first heard them.  His message was that when life gets tough, as it inevitably will, when you can't see a path forward, “Remember Your Heritage.”  By heritage he referred to the complex of family, friends, schools, mentors, and community associations that had shaped our young lives and embedded in us the sound values upon which civilized society depend.
So I commend to you Mr. Atwater's injunction: Remember Your Heritage. Remember, too, the role that LPBA has played in shaping it.  Wise words that all of us should keep in mind as we use our gifts to build upon an already firm foundation of service to the public and our bar association.  And let us never lose sight of the fact that ours will be the heritage that our successors inherit.
May we be worthy of the responsibility.

About the Author

Frank Steinberg

Frank is the founder and principal of Steinberg Law, LLC. A Jersey boy born and bred, he focuses on employment litigation and counseling, business litigation,  and aviation law. Following law school and a clerkship in the federal district court Frank spent his early career with large litigation ...


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