Lack of lawyers? The butler did it

Spencer Farris, The Levison Group

Something is wrong with the television in the AV room of the Levison towers. Not the TV itself, although I am certain that antique puts out enough radiation to cook a burrito. I’m talking about the programming. A close look at the black and white screen reveals that nothing is wrong with the color on the TV. We are simply getting old programs.

In a cost-cutting measure, the partners did away with cable television feeds some time ago. The cable service itself is relatively cheap but the lost productivity costs were astounding. The straw that broke the camel’s back came when a certain insurance client of one of the partners noticed his bills were higher during the NCAA tournament and the World Series. Work was still being done, but no one believed the 30 minute phone calls in the midst of a playoff game were all business-related. I blame television programs for low enrollment at law schools as well.

There used to be a show on TV called “Family Affair.” It portrayed the life of bachelor architect Bill Davis who, with the help of his butler Mr. French, worked a demanding job and raised three children. At the end of the day, Mr. French greeted Mr. Davis at the door with a martini, the children long since in bed and the household affairs properly attended.

Architects seem to lead a charmed life. I can’t think of a single television show about architect bummers. Evidently, architects do great work because they have butlers to help them through the drudgery. Lawyers should take heed.

Last week I stumbled onto a program called “Bachelor Father.” Dapper John Forsythe plays single lawyer Bentley Greg who is raising his niece with the help of Peter, his stereotypical Asian butler. Bentley rarely works. Peter attends the household duties and is at Bentley’s beck and call. Bentley spends his time at the club playing golf and offering semi-useful advice to everyone he meets, whether they know they need it or not.

Some might suggest that a spouse offers all of the same services that a butler does. I call these folks “single.” My wife works as many or more hours per day than do I. If she greets me at the door with a cocktail, I am pretty sure something bad has happened. Compare this to the bliss of Messrs Greg and Davis and the comfort that a ready beverage meant to them. I must be doing something wrong.

I am convinced that older lawyers entered law school in hopes of emulating Bentley Greg. Why wouldn’t they? Three martini lunches and mornings at the country club are much easier with a manservant at home. They’re certainly less stressful than discovery disputes and the calendar gods that control modern attorneys’ time.

Many of my law school classmates (and I) watched “L.A. Law” during college, and thought that was what the practice of law was all about. We thought law school was our key to fancy meals and fast cars. Taking our kids to Applebee’s in the Oldsmobile is just another cruel joke that law school played on us. Turns out a law degree wasn’t a guarantee of custom suits and fancy jobs for most of us.

Still, my generation of lawyers is only mildly disappointed. The fast life of a Los Angeles law firm pales in comparison to the bliss of butlered living, to be sure. Smartphones and computers close some of the gap for my generation. We have to buck up and work through the rest. We are used to picking up our own dry cleaning. Had we expected a butler upon graduation, we would be inconsolable.

Anyone following law school admissions lately knows that applications are trending downward. Have we reached a saturation of lawyers? Hardly. There are still twenty four hours in the day, each of them billable. Law school is still easier than attaining a Ph. D. in physics. A phone call to Bernie’s Butler Bureau confirmed my suspicion- butler supply is also on the decline. Where some might see coincidence, I see correlation. The decline in butlers is the real reason for the decline in lawyers.

Law school admission officers, take heed. If you want more college graduates flocking to your overpriced and under attended law programs, you would be wise to start a butler training program in the next building over. Think of the synergy! Young lawyers and young butlers could study together and form friendships that would lead to long and prosperous careers for both. Is it really that hard to fund a curriculum of mixed drinkology, household management and stain removal? Certainly no harder than teaching torts and tax law. And at the end of the day, a proper Manhattan is just as satisfying as a revocable trust with contingent riders. In fact, I would work on that trust document gladly, knowing that the glass at home would be half full.


Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column of the Levison Group. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St. Louis, Missouri. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent to this newspaper or directly to the Levison Group via e-mail at
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