From November 6th-8th, enterprising students from across the country (and even beyond) gathered in Atlanta, Georgia, for STRIVE’s annual student conference. At this year’s event, on “The Morality of Value Creation and Trade,” students attended lectures and breakout sessions by entrepreneurs, professionals, and intellectuals on the philosophical and business principles necessary to create and trade value. The following is the first in a series of reports composed by enthusiastic attendees on their favorite among the weekend’s presentations.
Lawyers don’t get much love. Indeed, given the strikingly low public perception of lawyers’ business and ethical worth these days, many might find it perplexing to see a panel of legal professionals presenting at a conference on “value-creation.” Aren’t lawyers supposed to be vultures who feed on the problems of their clients—or something like that?
At this year’s STRIVEcon, legal experts Paul Beard (Alston & Bird, LLP), Matthew Gerber (Center for Excellence in Higher Education, Inc.), and Steve Simpson (Ayn Rand Institute) set out to offer curious students a more positive view law as a profession. Each brought a unique perspective to the value offered by a principled approach to legal work.
Paul Beard works at a major private firm litigating on behalf of developers, energy companies, and other property owners in their efforts to make use of their properties. He considers his work extremely valuable.
“I’m very passionate about property rights,” explained Beard. “I do think it’s a basic, fundamental right, without which most rights would not exist. And so I’m very passionate about empowering clients to make reasonable use of their property. I help companies be productive. I help them achieve their productive ends, like oil production—I feel like I’m a part of that process, and helping that production to happen.”
Beard, inspired by Ayn Rand’s “Trader Principle,” views his relationships with clients as mutually-beneficial exchanges.
“Many see lawyers as predatory,” said Beard. “But in a free society, individuals trade value for value. I see [legal work] very much as a trader relationship—that I’m providing an important value that they should want, and in return, I want their money.”
Matthew Gerber agreed, citing an admiration for “production” and “achievement” as his inspiration for joining the legal profession.
“Something about the good nature of [business people] made me feel that they should be rewarded for [their production],” he said. “I wanted to find some avenue that I could associate with these people. I thought that the law might be a good avenue to do that.”
Gerber took a different track than most lawyers. Rather than join a private firm right out of law school, he sought out entry-level work at a private corporation in hopes of eventually earning an in-house position.
“I wanted to work from the ground-up to understand how the business worked,” explained Gerber. “So I took a risk. I started out in sales and marketing, did some customer service, and eventually found myself in a role as their attorney.”
For Gerber, the most rewarding part of his in-house work was solving problems—especially challenging ones—for his company.
“I got to see what a lawyer could do in a real go-go environment, where a businessman says, ‘I want to do this, find me a way to do it,’” he said.
Steve Simpson agreed that a significant portion of legal work is problem-solving in the business arena.
“Civil law’s purpose is to solve disputes, to allow businesspeople to continue to produce,” said Simpson. “Lawyers help clients continue to produce. . . . That’s a huge challenge, and it’s hugely fulfilling to do that.”
The best part of it all, in Simpson’s view? The hard work involved in fighting for clients and their productive ends.
“I learned, very young, that I love hard work. I can remember walking out of my law firm at midnight or 2:00am—hadn’t eaten for hours—and thinking to myself, ‘I absolutely love the fact that I’m working my ass off.’ . . . Life is not fun unless I’m involved in some kind of battle.”
For Simpson, for Beard, for Gerber, law is that battle—a deeply fulfilling, richly rewarding, value-creating battle. Students responded well to their message.
“I think there is a lot of value to legal work,” commented Giovanni Vasko.
Another student, Vincenzo Carcirieri, was less sure at the start. Considering legal work himself, Carcirieri remained undecided on entering the field.
But his final verdict on lawyers? “I think they’re value-creators,” said Carcirieri.
Photo credit: Sarah Martinson/The Undercurrent