Work as play/ Play as work

Oct 21, 2008 Work as play/ Play as work

For fewer than two years between leaving the Maryland Public Defender’s Office and becoming my own boss, I worked at a civil trial law firm. I learned many good things there. However, I realized that I would be able to spread my wings the farthest by being my own boss. Without a boss, no longer did anyone urge me to wear my suit jacket when meeting with clients, nor to work in a gray-feeling and cramped building with an uncomfortable winter draft whirling through my basement townhouse office for months on end; that is not what I am about. Employers, take heed: Such unnecessary formalities and physical discomfort do not make for the highest performing staff.

Before we even had furniture delivered to my duo practice with Jay Marks, we already had potential clients coming through our doors. It was August 1998, and I was energized, and am all the more energized as the positive karma continues flowing. All that was needed was to leave behind the fear of having to succeed without a duplicated weekly paycheck.

How to enjoy practicing criminal defense when my clients typically are in varying degrees of disharmony? I welcome the challenge to help return harmony to them. It can be as small as a recent misdemeanor trial date when my client was tremendously nervous about the unknowns of his case. Before our case was called, a Mr. Price’s case was called, for some sort of non-jailable moving violation. The judge completed Mr. Price’s case almost as quickly as it has started. I wrote a large note on my legal pad to my client: “Does Mr. Price hang out with Bob Barker?” For a brief moment, my client was caught up in juxtapositional laughter, briefly forgetting his fears. Ultimately, the prosecutor dismissed the case.

A year ago, a client had a District Court trial scheduled in extreme Western Maryland. He took the train from home a few states away and inquired about our driving there together. I agreed so long as he got a hotel close to my home so that I would not be waiting for Godot at some desolate uncertain meeting place. We had a blast during our over two hour drive each way. My client is a fascinating person, is an artist to boot, and shares my strong support for a world with much less war, more justice and human rights, and the elimination of a police state mentality and reality. Beyond me was why the prosecutor had me and my client drive all the way out there to tell me what he already knew, which was his plan to dismiss the case after I had made efforts before the trial date to obtain a dismissal.

With the case dismissed, my client and I took in a walk around the interesting downtown surrounded by mountains and waterways, near the railroad tracks. On the drive back, we stopped at an unusual grocery store that included a strangely-named British dessert in a can, and we tried to make heads or tails of it. A year later, we bumped into each other at the September 2007 prelude to a peace march that assembled across the presidential palace and caught up with each other.

Last month I learned that Arnold Toynbee had excellently described the foregoing interactions with myself, and with my clients: “The supreme accomplishment is to blur the line between work and play.” Employers, take note. Employees, take note.

Thanks, Mike Garofalo, for focusing on the need to keep play in work. Jon Katz

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