Reflections on Small Town Life
When did work and life become separate and competing? One of the privileges we have as lawyers is the ability to choose where we will live, what law we will practice, and how we will practise it. We can choose our lifestyle. There is no inherent conflict between work and life; work is a part of the lawyer’s life.
My life in our small town of Golden includes the rewards and challenges of being a parent and a spouse, a career as a lawyer, and a commitment to the betterment of my community.
Let me tell you about small town life and lifestyle choices. Oh yes, and if making money is the most important thing in your life, there is little in what I have to say that will interest you.
Firstly, imagine not having to sit in rush hour traffic. What would you do with that extra hour or two every day?
Imagine, if you choose, being able to walk to the office from your own house. A real house with a fence and a yard and a garden and neighbours you know and like. Imagine that that house costs maybe $200 or $300,000.
You and your spouse chose each other because you wanted to spend time together: in a small town you can actually do that. You can have supper together, at home, and make it yourselves. You can go to the movie theatre together after the dishes are done: it’s only 10 minutes away and you park for free right there.
At home, while you’re out cutting the lawn or shovelling snow, the neighbours will come over to talk to you. They won’t be looking for free legal advice: they want to know what’s new, how the kids are or how about that local hockey team, eh ?
In small towns you can often cross-country ski right out your own back door. And for downhill enthusiasts, from Smithers to Fernie there are ski hills or resorts. It is not a two hour drive in the dark both ways to enjoy a few hours on the slopes. In Golden, we are 15 minutes from Kicking Horse Mountain Resort, so it is easy to do three or four powder runs before lunch and still spend a full afternoon at the office.
In the summer the Interior of BC is where most city dwellers want to holiday. Imagine living every day where most people can only vacation. Lying on the beach, hiking, bird-watching, fishing, or just relaxing in the sun are daily possibilities, not dreams.
Not all small town residents live in town. Many choose to have a backyard that is 10 or 20 acres, to plow their own driveways with a little tractor and to have a horse or a dog or two running free. The commute to the office then might actually be 15 or 20 minutes past pastures and log houses, along a river or through a small canyon.
When kids come along, you can actually be home with the babies, watch them change day by day and be the part of their lives that perhaps your parents could not be to you. As they grow you will know their teachers: that teacher may actually be a neighbour and is probably a client too.
When the kids get older, you will have time to go to their soccer games or basketball games. Because you are there anyway you will be asked to referee or coach and you can choose to be that part of your children’s lives too, sometimes, much to their chagrin.
Your practise will be general and people-oriented. On a typical day you will see four or five clients and review with each of them a different area of law. If you do criminal law, you may get a call from the RCMP to speak to someone who spent the night in custody. Your next client will be in about buying their first home, followed by a small business owner looking to incorporate.
The bulk of your day will be spent listening to people and advising them. A lot of your work and what pays the bills will be simple residential real estate purchases, sales and mortgages. As you and your practise get older more wills and estates will come your way.
If you fancy yourself as a barrister, there will always be contract disputes to be settled, divorces and custody cases to handle and summary advice to be given on collecting debts.
As a lawyer, you will be respected and sought after in the community for your intelligence, education, leadership skills and wisdom. You will be in demand as a business partner. You will be asked to join clubs, the school board, political campaigns and local projects. You can help build ski trails or a golf course, restore a heritage building or fund-raise for the community foundation or the new museum.
Alas, life is not totally idyllic in small towns. There will not be a Starbucks on every corner, or any corner. There may not even be a corner. There will be a small, locally-owned coffee shop where everyone does know your name and your kids’ names too.
You will not be anonymous. You will always be the lawyer. Your kids will be the lawyer’s kids.
Over time, you will get to know the same people in many different ways. He will be a client and the plumber who fixes the toilet.
They might live just down the road and your kids and theirs will go to school, play soccer and grow up together. You might have done a divorce for one of them and will probably have done their conveyance and their parents’ estates. You will be invited to their kids’ weddings and years later will be honoured to give the eulogy at their funerals.
There are no malls, Costcos or big box outlet stores. There is no fabulous shopping. There are small retail businesses, services and professional offices staffed by people who are also your neighbours and clients. If the store owner doesn’t have it in stock, she will order it for you.
City-style entertainment options are limited. There are no opera, multiplex cinemas or huge rock concerts. You will be on your own to make your own fun. When a performer comes to town, often on the way up in their career or on the way down, you can choose to support them or thank them by attending the show.
You can make your own entertainment too. You will make friends and have dinners together. And of course, the outdoors are literally just outside your door for skiing, water sports, or just walking in the forest.
You will not make a half a million dollars a year, but you will always have work. You will eventually stop seeing evenings and weekends away from the office as a money-losing proposition. On the other hand, everyone you meet is a potential client and will be sizing you up.
With your skills and your time, you can make a difference to the world around you. You will watch your community grow and thrive, knowing that you have been instrumental in those positive changes.
(first appeared in "The Advocate" May 2014)