It just occurred to me that after so many years of blogging, I’ve never blogged about how I ended up becoming a Syracuse New York personal injury lawyer. That’s actually a pretty interesting question because you can ask a thousand ten-year olds what they want to be when they grown up and I can pretty much guarantee you none of them will say, “a personal injury lawyer”. They might say “lawyer”, but I doubt any of them aspire to be the guy on the big billboard under the worked “INJURED?”
Here’s my story. Just for fun, I’m going to embed a lie in it. At the end I’ll tell you what the lie was. Play along and try to guess what the lie is before you get to the end.
When I finished college, I was undecided on a career, but I knew I wanted to see the world. So I went back home to Syracuse, New York, where I worked in a textile cleaning company (Coyne Laundry) for a year to save up some money for long trip.
My plan was to hitchhike around the world. This was back in the 70’s when adventurous young folks actually did that kind of thing.
After a year of working and saving, I jumped on a plane to England with a large backpack stuffed with what I needed to survive on the cheap, including a sleeping bag and one-man tent. I then hitchhiked around Europe for several months, pitching my tent wherever my rides would drop me off. As I hitchhiked through northern Spain near Pamplona, a Spaniard picked me up. He was excited to find I was American. He had just started a new language school for adults. We really hit it off. He needed a native English speaker to teach in his new school. Would I like the job? “But I don’t speak Spanish”, I said. “But you don’t need to”, he replied. In fact, he wanted me to speak nothing but English in my classes. That way the students would learn English faster. “We’re on”, I said.
I was off and running in my first career as an English teacher. But after work I would soak up the Spanish language in the lively Spanish pub scene. It was the “sink-or-swim” method of language acquisition. Within a year, I was fluent.
I loved this foreign language and culture immersion experience so much that I wanted to try with another language and culture. So I took off to Paris, France where I spent another 5 years teaching English and learning French. (Side note: I actually worked as an “illegal alien” until I finagled a work visa). I would go back to Spain a few times a year so that I kept up my Spanish, too. After my French immersion, I went back to Spain for a final year.
After a seven-year stay abroad, I finally decided it was time to “go home”. But what kind of work could I find there? Easy: I landed a gig teaching Spanish and French in a New England boarding school. Meanwhile, during the summers, I earned a masters’ degree in Spanish from Middlebury College.
But then – out of nowhere – the law bug hit me. The law thing kind of ran in the family. Two of my uncles and two of my brothers were lawyers. All of a sudden that seemed more interesting and challenging than teaching languages, which was “getting old”.
I started law school at Syracuse University in 1990 when I was 35 years old. In my first year of law school, my “Torts” professor explained that personal injury law is a great field for folks who want to help people, not corporations. A personal injury lawyer’s clients are not rich corporations, but regular folks down on their luck. And unlike working for not-for-profit law firms that provide free legal services to the downtrodden, you can actually make a good living (if you’re good at it) representing injured people.
I graduated three years later at the top of my class. I could have gotten jobs at top law firms working for corporations and rich clients, especially after I completed a prestigious two-year clerkship at a New York Appellate Court in Rochester. But that tort law “bug” planted in my mind back in law school had stuck. I wanted to work for real people, not corporations.
I chose to join the law firm of Michaels & Smolak, a small but very successful personal injury law firm based in Auburn, New York. I never looked back.
Ok, so what “fact” in the above story was the lie? Ready?
The lie was that I would tell a lie. It’s all true!