A few thoughts about Wall Street

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Ottawa is a long way, literally and figuratively, from the financial core of the United States, and my wife is the economics major in the family. So I’m not going to pretend to have any insights to offer on the sucking chest wounds opening up on Wall Street these days. If you’re looking for good analysis of the situation from a legal profession perspective, start your search at Adam Smith Esq. But I do have three quick thoughts for you that relate in some way to the current troubles.

Media: I’ve been disappointed with how the MLM (mainstream legal media) has been covering the financial turmoil. Most of the focus at the legal media giants has been on which law firms have bagged the corporate work on the breakup, merger or bankruptcy of which financial behemoth. I’m not reading a lot about the human toll of these institutions’ collapse, or about the implications for the corporate legal sector as a whole. And I’ve yet to hear anyone ask the question that people were asking in the wake of the Enron scandal: where were the lawyers? Many global law firms grew very rich off the same hideously complex financial instruments that everyone is now denouncing as having been clearly unstable and unsustainable. Did lawyers not see the disaster coming, or did they prefer not to look that deeply or that far ahead? It’d be nice if the periodicals that lionized these lawyers in the good times asked these questions in the bad.

Clients: Very few lawyers (especially among readers of this blog, I’m guessing) count among their clients the world’s largest banking and financial institutions. But every lawyer has clients who read newspapers and watch television news, and these latter two vehicles have been brimful lately with dire comparisons (do a Google News search for “worst crisis since the Depression” and marvel at the results) and grim forecasts. Ratcheting up their audience’s anxiety levels is great for business, but the end result is a population-wide injection of stress. Bottom line: your clients are probably worried about the handbasket they’re in and where it’s heading. Now might be a good time to drop them a line with some reassuring words and making yourself available to talk (not on billable time, obviously). You don’t need to provide them with expert financial analysis; but you might provide them with an attentive ear, a sympathetic outlet for their anxiety, and a simple reminder of what lawyers are supposed to do: care sufficiently about their clients to be available in difficult times.

Community: A lot of people have lost and will yet lose their jobs in this crisis, and the burden of cleaning up this mess will be borne around the world and well into the future. Harder times than many of us are used to could lie ahead. So this seems like an appropriate time to think about those members of our community who couldn’t dodge these bullets, or who already suffer from misfortune on a greater scale. We’re about to launch our annual United Way drive here at the office, and as the campaign chair, I see and hear a lot about people in our community who never had a chance to get where we did, or who suffer daily from poverty, abuse and mental illness. Lawyers talk a good game about giving back to the community, and many walk that talk — but we need more to step up. They say lawyers thrive in both good and bad times; if so, then it’s even more incumbent on us to help out where and when we’re needed.

Stock market analysts are talking detachedly these days about all the investing opportunities this crisis affords. You might want to give some thought to the personal, client and community opportunities that are opening up as well.

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