Vail Daily column: Open Bar: Debunking the prejudice mountain attorney myth
Ryan Summerlin April 14, 2013
Legal lore posits a certain image of the mountain lawyer: Patagonia-clad, goggle-tanned and rushing to trade in ski boots for loafers in time to make a court appointment. Commensurate with this image is an insidious stereotype regarding the qualifications of a ski town attorney. Many within and outside of the profession presume that the mountain lawyer is inferior to his city counterpart in intelligence, motivation and ability. The truth that the big city firms do not want known is that some of the most brilliant and compassionate legal minds practice their craft in close proximity to the trails and rivers that they hold dear.A successful lawyer must be imaginative, agile, confident and possess endurance of body and spirit. Not coincidentally, these are attributes accurately ascribed to us mountainfolk. One must make an affirmative choice to practice law in a ski town, with all of the financial and other sacrifices that it can entail. Merely securing a legal position in the mountains requires ingenuity and an impressive resume of education and experience. In contrast, the path to an associate’s desk at a city law firm is well-trodden. It requires no particular resourcefulness or other worldly skill. Walking as a lemming from law school to an associate position to the allegedly amazing partner track, the city lawyer is rewarded for following the established mores. Insulated from the frenetic pace of city life and in better harmony with the natural world, the mountain lawyer can draw on his literally higher plane of existence to bring a differing perspective to a legal matter. Whether this takes the form of a creative solution or an unorthodox litigation strategy, the ski-town attorney can outfox and bewilder the opposing party.It is often assumed that the mountain lawyer is a skier/biker/fisherman first and an attorney second. This is a false dichotomy. Balance is the operating principle for the ski-town attorney. Contrary to the prevailing big city law firm “wisdom,” it is possible to excel as a lawyer while also devoting large swaths of time to family and recreation. Indeed, the inspiration and energy drawn from a powder morning or an afternoon at the playground is an infinitely more powerful spark to excellent work than another drudge-filled day bathed in the fluorescent light of a soulless skyscraper. The goggle tan in the courtroom is not the badge of a slacker but one capable of recognizing and organizing priorities. The savvy skier knows that one single powder run can be life-altering in a way that cruising icy groomers all season will never be. Similarly, a focused and time-efficient session of research and brief writing can yield results far superior than those created by sitting at a desk merely for the sake of sitting there. With the time saved by this efficiency, the mountain lawyer has time for that bike ride or disc golf session, volunteer work, or hike with a young daughter. The mountain lawyer feels successful even in (rare) defeat and potentially even in poverty because he is able to live his life in his own way. Particularly as a young lawyer in the city, success and advancement is determined largely by the amount of hours worked. Quality of work and of life is a secondary consideration. This perverse system fails to enrich the young lawyer, both as an attorney and as a person. The result is a bitter, disillusioned lawyer who has failed to live up to his potential. The mountain lawyer intuitively knows the folly of this course. Rather than being a psychological drain on society, the satisfaction derived from the mountain lifestyle allows the ski-town attorney to bring positivity into the community.Exposure to the power of avalanches and raging rivers and angry bears has humbled the mountain lawyer. Humility is an exceedingly overlooked quality for an attorney and allows the ski-town attorney to better relate to the client and to a jury. When a mountain lawyer projects a low-key, modest demeanor, the opposing counsel unreasonably and incorrectly assumes that the mountain lawyer is not a worthy adversary. Yet there is a vital difference between not taking oneself too seriously and not taking work seriously. Mountain lawyers devote as much or more energy to their practices than they do toward tackling tacky singletrack.The prejudice against mountain lawyers can actually work in their favor. It is a very powerful tool to be underestimated. Victory in those circumstances is particularly sweet. T.J. Voboril is a partner with Thompson, Brownlee & Voboril LLC, a local civil litigation firm, and the owner-mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Mr. Voboril at 970-306-6456 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit www.thompsonbrownlee.com.