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Labor Day provides some perspective on the profession

John DeereI never really knew the exact origin of Labor Day. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, although the actual founder of Labor Day is debated, it is agreed the holiday’s origin is the result of the Central Labor Union’s efforts in the late 19th century to set an example of a “workingmen’s holiday.” With the growth of such labor unions, the idea of Labor Day eventually caught on, and by 1885 the holiday was celebrated in many industrial centers throughout the country, often by a street parade to display “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”

I am not certain, but I would bet that attorneys were not the group that the Central Labor Union had in mind when they sought to promote and celebrate the “workingman.” But today, most Americans, including attorneys, are able to enjoy Labor Day so long as their employer allows.

Although today’s lawyer is generally exclusively a lawyer, a profession not considered to be one that “works with their hands” as a laborer or farmer does, this was not always the case. Thomas Jefferson, for example, was a land surveyor, inventor, farmer and lawyer. We know him for his most famous professional endeavor, the third president of the United States. (Interestingly, the first five presidents were both lawyers and farmers — a pairing that is most unusual in today’s economy given the demands of each profession.)

Over time, with advances in technology and the demand for detail, professions became more specialized. Today, one works as a doctor and only a doctor; one is a manager and only a manager and so on. Additionally, there is vast specialization within each specific profession. When I tell someone that I am a lawyer, I am often asked, “And what type of law do you practice?”

In this transition, where we have become so specialized in our given professions, we have lost the ability to appreciate how other people earn a living. We inevitably become focused on our own pursuit as we spend our day saturated in our own profession. I recently read an article asserting that one of the most important skills of an attorney is perspective- the ability to see the other side. This is imperative for an attorney because we are hired to advocate on behalf of others who almost always have a different profession than our own.

Therefore, we should implement a more “generalist-minded” approach in working to understand a client’s needs. A storeowner who seeks legal advice regarding their proprietorship does not understand the demands of being an attorney and, likewise, an attorney more than likely does not intimately understand the unique stresses that accompany the operation of a retail store.

Never is this contrast more profound than when I take a trip back home to upstate New York to visit my family, most of whom earn their living as farmers. I spent this Labor Day weekend back home, where many were busy harvesting a bumper crop of peaches and gearing up for pick-your-own apple season (farmers don’t get Labor Day off). A recent family purchase prompted a conversation about the usefulness and practicality of a “J.D.” In my world, that is a Juris Doctorate. In my family’s world, that is a John Deere tractor.

The ability to go home and spend time around people who do something else for a living — in this case, a profession where one truly “works with their hands” — helps me to appreciate other professional pursuits and widens the lens in which I view my own practice. It will always be a challenge to try to understand a profession that is not your own. My biggest challenge this weekend, however, was trying to fit as much as my family’s bounty as possible in to my carry-on luggage en route back to Baltimore.

Note: Those looking to gain some unique agriculture lawyer perspective should check out the MSBA Real Property Section’s event on September 21.


  1. Once again an excellent post. As always a pleasure to read.

  2. Interesting column. I think you legal beagles should all get your hands dirty at your winery field trip!