On Being A Lawyer

Lawrence J. Zimmerman

On Being a Lawyer

I want to share with you something very important, the reason I became a lawyer. My grandfather, Coleman Zimmerman, was a great lawyer in the State of Rhode Island. He was the youngest person at the time, which was in the 1920’s to get a law degree and pass the bar in Rhode Island. Back in those days, you went to undergraduate school and obtained a law degree in the fifth year of schooling. He went on to have a great career representing people in all kinds of cases. In fact, I found a cartoon of him when he was a young legislator fighting to pass a bill that protected his constituents under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. He wanted the state to pass a similar law to make it even stronger. The cartoon in the newspaper called it the “Zimmerman Law.” There was one time after settling a property dispute; a client came calling on him at his house. This particular client could not pay my grandfather any money, but he did give him a cow. His client did not deliver it to the house, but kept it on his farm in case my grandfather ever wanted it or needed it. These are just a few anecdotes about him, but there are many inspiring ones.

In 1977, I was only five years old, living in Rhode Island, and my grandfather was suffering from terminal cancer. My only memories of him are seeing him lying in a hospital bed at my grandparent’s home. He passed away in December of that year, and when he died, many people came to pay their respects to our family. As a child, all I remember hearing is that my grandfather was a great man and a great lawyer because he helped all kinds of people. At that very moment, all I knew was that I wanted to become a lawyer. I wanted to help people. Many people who go to college are not sure what they want to do and just choose the legal profession. I believe the legal profession chose me at such a young age; the stories about my grandfather had such a profound impact on me that I was inspired to follow his footsteps.

It is sad that lawyers get such a bad reputation when in reality, most of the lawyers that I work with only want to work hard for their clients and achieve just results. Every time a client comes to my office and hires me, on any case that is either big or small, I always think of each case as a big case because it is a big one for that client. It is the only legal matter in their life and they have entrusted me to advocate on their behalf. To me there is no greater honor than a client asking me to fight for them. Even after practicing law for eighteen years, it still makes me pause for a moment, to think about it, and appreciate the privilege that that client has given me. I wish I had known my grandfather other than just through a child’s eyes. In his death, he provided me with a gift: he was someone I always aspired to be like. Had he not died when I was so young, I may have taken a different path. I could not imagine working in any other profession besides this honorable one.

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