Since becoming ambassador, I stopped practicing law and though the ambassadorship is completed, I am not now practicing law. But I remain keenly interested in the world of legal practice and consult regularly with my dear friends from the board of Litigation Magazine, who are leading attorneys from around the country. Their updates keep me updated on a profession in which I spent 27 years.
Larry Vilardo was my co-clerk for Judge Irving Goldberg when we clerked on the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. He is a leading lawyer in Upstate New York and an expert on the practice of law, particularly in small to mid-size law firms. Here is his report:
YOU CAN GO HOME AGAIN
They say that you can’t go home again. By and large, they are right. After years away, you have changed and “home” has changed. When you return, it is never the same.
But I decided to try anyway. Thirty years ago, with a degree from Harvard Law School and after a federal court clerkship, I decided to pass on the bright lights of the big city and return to my home town of Buffalo, New York, to practice law. It was not an easy choice. New York and Washington meant more money. San Francisco and Dallas meant that and better weather. And my friends and classmates worried that I would soon get bored.
But looking back after more than thirty years, I am glad I decided to go home. Here’s why.
I was able to balance practicing law with the rest of my life. I have worked hard over the years: you can find me in the office every Saturday – and a good number of Sundays – when I am in town. But I still have been able to devote lots of time to my family and to interests other than practicing law. I played a real part in raising three fabulous, well-adjusted children. I attended almost all their ball games and dance recitals, and they got to see their grandparents almost every day. All that would not have happened if we lived elsewhere – and especially if I were trying to make partner or build a practice in a big city.
I was able to get involved in a community where I already had roots. I went to grammar school, high school, and college in Buffalo. I have known people who live there, and institutions that form its backbone, for more than half a century. That has made it easy to give back to those people and institutions that have helped me along the way and to get involved in ways that are rewarding and meaningful.
I have been able to work with great people who share my values. To be honest, this is probably due to equal parts of good judgment and good luck. When I returned to Buffalo after my clerkship, I worked for Terry Connors, then a thirty-something partner at one of Buffalo’s larger firms and a rising star in the Western New York legal community. A few years later, Terry asked me to join him in starting Connors & Vilardo. Over the past 27 years, we have managed to attract a number of incredibly talented lawyers and genuinely good people who share our commitment to excellence and who have become more like family than partners and associates. For me, that’s the best part of practicing law back home.
We represent real people with real problems. The practice that we have built at Connors & Vilardo is focused on helping people with their problems. Even when we represent large companies in business litigation, we get to know the principals who are most affected by the dispute. And in much of our broad litigation practice, we represent individuals: doctors and lawyers; criminal defendants and injured workers; young and old; rich and poor. A few years back, I was at dinner with a couple big city litigators and told them about our practice. The older partner turned to his younger associate and said “he’s doing what we all thought we signed up to do when we went to law school.”
Home is where I am happiest. I love Buffalo. I understand the jokes about our weather and our economic challenges. It still hurts to think about the four Super Bowl losses in the 1990s. And living here has meant sacrificing dollars that probably would have come with practicing in a bigger city. But Buffalo is a good place to practice law and a better place to raise a family, as evidenced by the former professional athletes who live here long after their careers have ended. For me, it is as comfortable as an overstuffed chair in front of the fireplace on a cold winter day. It is home.
Ultimately, the decision to practice law in a city like Buffalo comes down to lifestyle and values. And I would be lying if I said I have not had second thoughts from time to time over the years. But looking back after three decades, I would do it again in a heartbeat. I’m glad I went home again.
Lawrence J. Vilardo
CONNORS & VILARDO, LLP
Buffalo, New York