January 6th, 2020

What’s Your Adventure?

Self portrait

The hammock was striped in four shades of green. It hung by the water’s edge, from the end of a short wooden pier, covered by a thatched roof.

The horizon to the east was limited by only two things: Human eyesight and the curvature of the earth.

As I gently swung in the hammock, I watched the sun give the impression of sunrise, as the planet slowly rotated into position. Nearby, elegant egrets stood sentry and prehistoric looking pelicans skimmed the water’s surface, both looking for breakfast in their own special ways.

I was in Central America on an atoll with my family, 36 miles off the mainland. There was no power line. No plumbing. No cell service. No wi-fi. We were off the grid. I wasn’t even sure where my iPhone was as I hadn’t touched it in days — it being a useless brick except for the redundant camera.

Earlier that day — meaning the dead of night long after moonset — nature had asked me to briefly leave my tent, and I took a few moments to gaze at the Big Dipper ablaze near the northern horizon amidst the brightest stars I’d seen in decades. There was no light pollution to dull their twinkle.

Later that day I planned to kayak and snorkel and dive, to swim with sharks and rays and turtles and eels and a bazillion oddly-shaped, oddly-colored creatures, corals and plants in the waters of the atoll.

A diva take a photo of a shark
Smile and say “cheese.”

It’s strange, sometimes, that one can find comfort when leaving one’s comfort zone. But such is the nature of adventure.

While I was doing this, I also knew that out there on Twitter or Facebook, some folks would spend their time looking for something to be outraged about, some micro-aggression hidden to all but their own tribe, or someone who simply didn’t meet their definition of perfect.

And I knew, with as much certainty as the human brain can muster while swinging from a hammock, that none of them would ever have carved on their headstone, “I wish I’d spent more time fighting on Twitter.”

Going off the grid brings a healthy perspective.

Such travel is limited by three things: Time, money and inspiration. When we are younger, with fewer responsibilities such as jobs, spouses and kids, there is generally more time but less money. And when we are older there is generally more money but less time. But most important for such travel, without inspiration, both time and money are meaningless.

While this might appear, at first blush, to be the opening to a self-indulgent travelogue, it isn’t intended that way. One need not travel down to Belize to engage in discovery — or even up to the relatively close Catskills, Adirondacks or Finger Lakes of New York for some camping and hiking.

Hawksbill turtle.

Adventure can be found at home. It can be found anytime one leaves one’s comfort zone to explore something new. It could be eating new foods, trying new sports or recreations, listening to different kinds of music, or meeting new people. For lawyers, adventure may be in getting sworn into SCOTUS. Each is an adventure in its own way. As long as it’s new.

The results are not guaranteed. And that is part of the point. For if you knew in advance that the sun would shine, your health would be good, that special someone would say yes to a date, and that new food you tried to cook would come out great, where would be the adventure? Where is the thrill of mystery and learning and reward for time spent?

When we are younger, adventure is easy. Because everything is new, everything is an adventure. When I was 28 I quit lawyering and took a year off to backpack the world. Every hour of every day brought something new. And every so often, I still remember new stories to bore my family with.

The fam

But this year I’ll reach the 30th anniversary of my 30th birthday, and I appreciate even more how easy it is for folks to be stuck in a rut. One of my jobs now is to inspire my kids to explore and seek adventure for what it is, for each one wizens us to new experiences, new people, new views and further enlightens us to the human condition. And it’s fun.

The vast majority of my posts are on personal injury law in some manifestation, mostly geared toward New York, which kinda makes sense when you title your blog New York Personal Injury Law. This one isn’t. Unless one wants to consider that New York City’s trial lawyers, both civil and criminal, will meet jurors from across the globe and it’s good to know a bit more about the backgrounds and experiences they might have had in the old country.

So exploring and learning new things for lawyering might be a bonus. It also helps us appreciate that just because the law says x it doesn’t mean the jurors will follow that. Because their gut may tell them otherwise.

But adventure isn’t done to make us better at our jobs because then it would be called work. It is an end unto itself, like a hobby is to many, that we do merely for the experiences they bring.

As the clock struck midnight and we started the new decade, I knew that people elsewhere were out partying big time. I was asleep. Out by 9:30, as was everyone else in our camp. If you want to feel the earth turn as the sun gives the appearance of that sunrise across that unlimited tropical horizon, staying up until midnight for the artificial change of a calendar makes little sense. Besides that, watching my digital watch change from 11:59 to 12:00 isn’t terribly exciting.

The excuse of a new year (and a new decade) has brought many people, no doubt, to make resolutions. Each year I make the same one with my standard dad joke: I will make no resolutions except the one not to make resolutions. I’ve always kept it.

But this year, as I swung in the hammock on the warm morning breeze, I finally made one and relayed it to my college-aged daughter likewise swinging nearby. My resolution was to go forth and have more adventures, though I readily concede having had far more than my fair share in this lifetime. The resolution is to actively seek and find new experiences for no other reason than this is what makes each of us sparkle just a little more, and makes each of us smarter and wiser about the world around us, and it brings perspective to what we do on a day-to-day basis.

Happy New Year to everyone. And happy new decade. You may be older today than you’ve ever been but you’re younger than you’ll ever be. Go forth and have an adventure.

Now what are you intending to do?


May 27th, 2008

It was 20 Years Ago Today…

On May 27, 1988, after 2 1/2 years as an associate at a top medical malpractice firm in New York, I quit. Not for another job. But to pick up a backpack and travel around the world.

And so a journey began, initially lasting 10 months and including my first “blog” of sorts, a monthly travel journal I called The Turkewitz Times. But in actuality the travels lead to my own firm and the newsletter to this little electronic law diary. And it lead to a few lessons in the law, the kind that might not be in our books.

When I quit that job I was already experienced, having deposed over 100 medical professionals and tried two cases at Fuchsberg & Fuchsberg. And because of that experience I was confident I could hook up with a new firm when I returned after having scratched the travel itch. This was an adventure I could never undertake once I got married and had kids, had a mortgage and an assortment of other responsibilities.

That journey took me from the exotic center of Marrakesh, to the old stone walls of Dubrovnik and Jerusalem, on a felucca down the Nile and to the otherworldly Cappadocia in Turkey. From the depths of Red Sea scuba diving to the Himalayan heights of Nepal. From the poppy fields of the Golden Triangle of Thailand to a final farewell bungee jump in New Zealand.

I communicated back in ’88-’89 by writing the newsletter filled with stories, a diary, letters, an editorial and an expected itinerary. This would go once a month to my brother Ken, who then typed it all up on a Mac with desktop publishing and mailed my periodical in previously addressed envelopes to 20 family and friends. They, in turn, could write to me (c/o American Express offices) at the anticipated drop points. I would get my own copy of the Times about two to three months after writing it. Much later came email and the the web. So this blog is sort of version 2.0 for me.

As I morphed from New York trial lawyer to vagabond bohemian, I used almost every travel conveyance known to man, usually in second class, and slept in almost every kind of budget accommodation, often in a state of some discomfort. A couple of random lessons from that trip still pop into my brain when evaluating and trying cases.

That’s because you can’t take law in a theoretical vacuum. Jurors can’t be pigeonholed by race or sex, or by any level of economic or social level, though lawyers always try. When people have lived lives, often of spectacular diversity that you can’t even begin to unravel in the few minutes you speak with them in voir dire, you come to realize the difficulties encountered in those few minutes you might have with each person.

And it also means that just because a judge tells jurors that they can do something doesn’t mean they will, because their own life’s experiences will get in the way. The law, for instance, may tell me that I must prove a case by a preponderance of the evidence. Just a smidgen more than 50%. But that doesn’t work for some jurors. If they are going to shift the status quo, most want to see more, even if the judge tells them they don’t need to have it.

One lesson on the law came to me as I rode the roof of a bus in India. There are times when each of us elects to take our chances to do something or go somewhere, chances that are purely elective. This is the general state of the world, and assessing those risks comes with living a life. And so if you’ve been hurt solely by your own hand due to the risk you’ve undertaken, please don’t call asking for representation to blame someone who is blameless. Even if they have insurance. Because it isn’t just me that won’t be interested, but the jurors won’t be either. Humans are not blank slates and do not magically become so when called for jury service, and most people will be more than a bit resentful if you try to treat them that way.

Another lesson also came on that same ride, as I watched the conductor climb out the door of the moving bus as we wound through the mountains, use a window frame for a step, and climb up to the roof to collect a few rupees. I came to appreciate the significance of our labor laws.

Other lessons came to me as I realized the significance of my own wealth. I had an American passport and an education. That alone, without more, put me at the top of the heap luck-wise, before even considering that I was able to afford the $2,500 round-the-world ticket that I bought on Pan Am. I was fortunate to have picked my parents well.

And I learned not to sweat the small stuff. So please don’t call me if your injury is small and you will make a full recovery in very short order. The jurors have had small injuries too. It doesn’t mean they brought a suit for a gazillion dollars, the way some folks want to do. Sure you may see such suits in the papers from time to time. But only when the suit is brought, not when it is dismissed later on or settled for a microcosm of the initial demand. Sometimes you just have to count your blessings. Some commenters thought I wasn’t compassionate enough for the guy who claimed to be trapped in the toilet of a JetBlue flight. Now you know why.

But possibly the biggest travel lesson had nothing to do with the law, or trying to find code violations in this Phi Phi Island hotel you see to the right. (Best two bucks I ever spent. Pants were extra.) And that is that life is short and if you want to do something, then you had better go do it. Sooner rather than later. Traveling will not be easier to arrange five years from now, if that is in your mind. Nor will starting up your own practice.

When I decided to start my own practice on my return, it wasn’t with any grand plans. I just wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do next and decided to do some per diem legal work while I mulled it over. And so began the simplest start of any law business: I bought business cards. Then taped one to a white sheet of paper and xeroxed it onto good paper and I had letterhead. I was in business, and answered some ads for lawyers needed for depositions and court conferences, and typed reports on the old Smith Corona. I used this stuff called carbon paper. You can find it in museums.

I went from doing high-end medical malpractice actions prior to travel, to being a rent-a-lawyer that was faxed a few sheets of paper the night before conducting a deposition in the courthouse in a small auto accident case. The firms that hired me, often without even knowing who I was or asking about my experience, were not exactly engaged in the highest form of lawyering. It was a big come-down, but if I was going to take a shot at my own business, starting with rather limited funds, the time to do it was at 29, not 49.

The business didn’t stay quite that small, of course. I found some medical malpractice cases in some offices that weren’t be worked up (or more likely, they found me), started trying cases with success and arguing a couple of appeals. I got an office, and a computer. I cut off the ponytail I had grown. I’m now in business for myself for 19 years and sitting in my third office location after leaving the home version.

I’m not going to claim it was easy. Working for yourself as a small business is a big stress, regardless of the type of business. And the lousy cash flow economics of personal injury law, where you front the case expenses with your own money for years on end, virtually guarantees that growth will be slow. And that assumes you chose your cases wisely and won, and therefore got your disbursements paid back and actually made a fee.

But it has been a fun ride, and I have no regrets. Going out on your own is very much an adventure, in this case one that I stumbled into. But it’s one I’m glad that I undertook. Whether I change again sometime in the future to link up with others is not something I know, only something I am open to. But that is because I try to continue on with an open mind on all sorts of things. You can’t see much when your mind is closed.

Trying new things led to the creation of this blog, without really knowing what, exactly would come of it. Are there risks in writing stuff (or publishing pictures) for anyone to see? Sure. But you also never know where it will lead. (And it may lead nowhere, so I try to make sure I enjoy it, simply for the sake of doing it.)

It was that open mind that also allowed me to say yes when my five year old said he wanted a mohawk earlier this year. Because hey, I know what it’s like to have once had a full head of hair, and to enjoy it while you can.