Rich or Famous

Why these were the choices is unclear today, but I can recall the discussions I had with friends back in my school days. Which would you rather be, rich or famous? The options aren’t mutually exclusive, but for reasons unknown, it was one or the other, not both. If you’re of a similar age to me, perhaps you had these discussions as well. Perhaps not. But this was one of the recurring discussions among my peers.

My choice was rich. It may have something to do with the fact that I was poor. My mother used to joke, “I never knew I was poor growing up. Nobody told me.” She thought that was hysterically funny, a reflection of how my generation became aware of such things, and therefore concerned about it and motivated to escape it. Her humor masked the fact that it was a core value that she and my father sought to instill in me, to become educated, make something of myself and enjoy financial security.

Mom never went to college, and had never heard of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, so couldn’t use it to explain her desire for me to achieve financial success, which wasn’t really “rich” at all, but financially secure. My sister and I had to be educated, and educated in something that could be put to practical use. Majoring in art history was not what people like us did. That was for wealthy dilettantes.The only way for people like us to escape a future of struggling was to become a professional. My parents had enormous respect for professionals, doctors and lawyers and such, and believed that becoming a professional was a guaranteed financially secure middle class life. If my parents could give us that, they would have done their job. Of course, they knew nothing about being a professional, but from their distance, it looked shiny and wonderful.

Years later, when we talked about it, they simply couldn’t grasp that a lawyer had to get clients to pay the fee. People didn’t just show up at the door and throw money at professionals, as mom somehow assumed. It wasn’t that she didn’t grasp the concept of business, but that she had never connected the nastiness of business with the loftiness of professions. There was a big black hole in her understanding, and she had no inclination to fill it with unpleasant thoughts that would simultaneously taint her success as a parent by producing a lawyer offspring.

My plan of action in my youth was to become a timpanist and, someday, play for Herbert Von Karajan at the Berliner Philharmoniker. Yeah, he had Nazi issues, but no one did Beethoven better. In high school, I took the money I earned from one of my many jobs and bought a bust of Beethoven at Spencer Gifts at the mall. It still sits on the mantel at SJ World Headquarters today, reminding me of what I was so long ago. Mickey’s ears sit atop it this image, but they’ve since been removed, as it was disrespectful to Ludwig.

Why didn’t I end up a timpanist? Two problems: First, as my parents intentionally made clear to me, there was no assurance of earning a sufficient living at it even if I succeeded. Second, as the conductor for the New Jersey Symphony explained to me at the time*, I wasn’t that good. Sure, I was a decent high school drummer, but I was no Saul Goodman. Not that Saul Goodman. This Saul Goodman.

So I was told, “For a timpanist, you would make a good lawyer.” The die was cast. It was after this epiphany that following my passion might not work out for me that I engaged in these “rich or famous” discussions. My choice was rich. It wasn’t just that financial security was drilled into me, but that there was nothing particularly desirable about being famous. Who cared whether people I didn’t know knew my name, admired me from afar, thought of me at all? It meant nothing to me, and I had no expectation of it.

Yesterday, a twit came across my path that struck me as absurd.

Apparently, there was a conference held somewhere in flyover land called TwitterLaw, where twitter mavens were schooling others on the “proper” use of twitter. Yes, there are some people so official as to deem themselves the proprietors of the correct use of social media by law professors, judges and legal academics. One such lesson was of the wrongfulness of “pundits,” taught by Rachel Gurvich, who proffered four people, all white males ironically, as examples of being “pundits.”

Whether this was offered as an example of good or evil, I can’t say, as I wasn’t there and don’t know what Gurvich had to say about it. But I suspect it was not a positive light, and that “pundit” was meant as a derogatory term. What was striking, however, was that she included Larry Tribe and Alan Dershowitz, two renowned Harvard Law School professors, who have come under some scrutiny for their outspoken political views. There was Michael Avenatti, the current iteration of Icarus, who went from icon of the Resistance, sleeping in Rachel Maddow’s guest bedroom, to sizing curtains for Otisville. And me.

Jokingly, I responded, “Why do I feel oddly out of place in this group?” I had no clue what to make of this. The other three had courted fame, sought fame. What the heck was I doing in this company?

A couple decades ago, I did some regular television legal commentary, but so did many other lawyers. We weren’t “stars,” but suits who filled in the dead air between commercials. But that was a long time ago, and I rarely do such things anymore as they contribute little to people’s understanding of law or current events. Instead, I write this blawg, just as many other lawyers had blawgs. Big deal, right? And I twit, like a few million other people. Another big deal.

Some people care to see my twits, while others do not. There are many lawyers who have far more followers than I do, and I’m fairly sure I’ve never made a list of important lawyers to follow on twitter. I twit what I want, just as I write what I want, and don’t make a habit of pushing my twits into the timelines of more important people so as to ride the coattails of their fame and hope some rubs off on me. I just twit.

Yet, there was a conference held somewhere in Iowa where somebody was talking about my twit as an example of punditry. Probably bad punditry. And I didn’t make a dime off it.

*I owned white tie and tails, but because only my torso was visible to the audience, I wore jeans below. The conductor did not find me amusing.

18 thoughts on “Rich or Famous

    1. SHG Post author

      If I become either a rapper or a Supreme Court justice, can I use “The Notorious SHG,” or is it too late?

  1. Miles

    From what I see, Gurvich is a big deal in #LadyLawyerDiaries, which is essentially a grievefest for oppressed female lawyers to create their own little swarm of buzzing bees to swarm and scold male lawyers for not protecting them from the Patriarchy. You weren’t included because you’re a show pony, but because you were being punished for not succumbing to the gal’s demands that you confess, repent and then disappear in shame for your misogyny.

    Don’t you know anything?

    1. SHG Post author

      In earlier days of the blawgosphere, there were many people “teaching” others how to do it right, which always struck me as ridiculous as the people doing the teaching had no “success” as blawgers. One would think you would have to have some small amount of success at doing something before being able to tell others how to do so.

      The same is now happening on the twitters, but from what I see, it’s more about being politically correct, insipidly inoffensive and putting together a posse of similarly disaffected unknown people to rally together for mutual admiration and protection. It’s not good enough to just use twitter to be whoever the hell you are, and should people decide to follow you for whatever reason they choose, that’s nice too.

      1. KP

        I remember someone leaping up and laying out the “Rules for using mobile phones” many years ago.
        There are always these people who feel a need to make us conform to their views of the world. Its where the wannabe bureaucrats/politicians come from!

  2. Richard Kopf


    Certain things are more important than others, although less important things can provide a source of amusement (and bemusement).

    I found out that the “Idaho Law Review: 2019 Symposium” with the oxymoronic title “#TwitterLaw” offered the attendees 6.5 CLE ethics credits.* So, I don’t think it would be wrong to say that you have now taught legal ethics to Idaho lawyers. That distinction officially makes you a mensch.

    All the best.


    * Really? Ethics credits!

    1. SHG Post author

      I can remember (as I’m sure you can as well) when mandatory CLE was instituted for the benefit of the clients. Not just 6.5 credits, but ethics credits.

  3. Jason

    A fellow Beethoven enthusiast! I’ve long wanted a bust of Beethoven to put atop my piano, a la Schroeder from Peanuts.

  4. Joihn Barleycorn

    You could have made it as a tenor in a flyover college town’s opera and ran a sports book to put your kids through college.

    But instead, for some unexplained reason, you didn’t choose the honorable route.

    That being said “tax time” is seriously starting to fuck with your head….

    P.S. I will throw in a hot link to your Twit Feed imbedded under the SJ banner when you decide you want to become famous and sell me the URL.

  5. L. Phillips

    Rich. If you are rich enough famous will take care of itself.

    Incidentally, congratulations on a working, wood burning fireplace in SJ World Headquarters. Consider your man card to have been renewed in spite of the funny nautical head gear.

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