THE DEFENSE REPORT
HOW MY FIRST JOB MADE ME A BETTER LAWYER JAGUARS, SNAKES, AND FERTILIZER
There’s a saying that the only thing law school doesn’t teach you is how to be a lawyer. While my classes at Mercer covered the complexities of our legal system, there was never much emphasis placed on how to run a business, be a good boss, or provide customer service. That’s why I’m always grateful for the day my mother sent me on an errand to Pike Family Nursery. Hear me out. Ever since I was a little kid, both my parents would tell me, “When you turn 16, you’re getting a job.” I didn’t fully understand why — we were financially stable after all. When I would ask about this, my mother simply told me “You’re getting older, and there are some things I can’t teach you.” Looking back, I understand exactly what she meant. Naturally, the summer I turned 16 I was on the hunt for a summer job. That’s when my mother, a prolific gardener, asked me to pick up some supplies from the Pike Family Nursery. Walking into the garden supply section, I was surprised to see a friend from high school wearing an employee’s uniform. I asked him if they were looking for more summer workers, and sure enough, I left with my mother’s supplies and a job offer. Part of me wonders if she knew what she was doing when she sent me out that day. Working at the nursery was a vibrant experience, to say the least. Every day was filled with colorful characters — contractors who swore like sailors, doctor’s wives trying to load six bags of fertilizer into the trunk of their Jaguars. And that’s just the customers. My coworkers were definitely an eclectic bunch. I could work a shift alongside a minor league golfer one day, and a half-way house resident the next. Having been raised in the suburbs, this job exposed me to all walks of life. And then there was the work itself. Most of the time I was outside in the parking lot in 90-degree heat unloading fertilizer from trailers. When I went inside for a drink of water, customers would almost always ask me questions along the way, so I had to pick up some basic botanical knowledge.
Perhaps the strangest aspect of the job was how many people brought in snakes. Living, dead, in a jar, or just held on an end of a stick, people would bring the reptiles they’d found slithering in their yard to our nursery. You have to remember, this was in the days before Google. We were often the first folks people thought of when they needed someone who could tell the difference between a garden variety snake and a copperhead. All in all, working these 8–10 hour days in the sweltering sun was quite the experience. In fact, I loved it so much I stayed on after summer ended, working weekends. Being outdoors and physically active felt great, and every time a customer wrote a review about me — again, in a time before Google — I got to keep the letter. I still have a box of the kind words I received during my time at the nursery. They’re a great reminder of what customer service is all about. This summer I’m still giving my mother rides to the nursery — her passion for gardening hasn’t waned after all. When I see the folks unloading trailers in that familiar parking lot, I think about all the important lessons I learned there: how to treat someone right no matter their situation, how to put my head down and work hard, and how to get people the knowledge they need — even if it’s in a field outside of my practice area. Law school couldn’t teach me these fundamentals. My parents had been right to insist on that summer job all along.
Stay cool this summer, and watch for snakes!
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