Is There Life After Law? by Frank J. Ceresi

Frank CeresiI can remember the call like it was yesterday. I had just returned to my chambers from the courtroom after a particularly difficult and emotional custody case. As I was ruminating about the testimony that I had heard, my secretary gently rapped on the door and said, “Judge Ceresi, a gentleman representing Abe Pollin is on the phone and would like to speak to you if convenient.” I was quite surprised because I knew who Abe Pollin was, but I had never personally met him. In fact, most everyone from the Washington, D.C. area knew of Mr. Pollin. He was (and still is) a longtime sports team owner who was frantically finishing construction on a building that would become the MCI Center in Washington, D.C. That arena (now built and renamed the Verizon Center) was to serve as the home court for each of his teams --- the Washington Wizards NBA team, Washington Mystics WNBA team, and Washington Capitals NHL team. The venue was also to showcase music, shops and so on.

After a quick introduction, the caller informed me that a sports museum would also be housed in the facility. That interested me in particular, because I have always enjoyed history and museums and have followed sports since my childhood. The caller then quickly got to the point: “Judge, Mr. Pollin would like to know if you would be interested in running the sports museum or, if not, whether you could help him recruit someone to do so.” I was, of course, taken aback. I would later learn that Mr. Pollin had learned of my interest in sports and sports history through mutual friends and some volunteer work that I had once done at a local museum. But, trust me here, the call --- and this opportunity --- came totally out of the blue.

What to do? On the one hand, I loved my job as a family court judge in Arlington, a terrific place to live and practice law. I had many friends in the local bar association and felt very fortunate to be able to have had a successful legal career and been in a position to help families and children in need. On the other hand, I had been a judge for some time and was relatively young. I took the bench when I was in my late 30’s and was less than 50 years of age when I received the call. By that time, I could not really imagine being a judge forever, but I was still enthusiastic about the job. But as I thought about the phone call I remembered what an older and wiser person told me years before --- in life there are only a handful of times that opportunities knock in a life-altering and significant way.

But here’s the complication. I was scared to face a life change or even consider the same. Could there possibly be a life other than the law for me? Particularly after I worked so hard to achieve at least some modest success in my chosen profession? Besides, we lawyers are by nature a very careful and thorough folk. I had a family and naturally wondered (ok…agonized) over whether a life change would, in fact, be a serious mistake. But ultimately I did decide to make the plunge by asking (then answering) this critical question: How many times in your life can you meld an avocation into a vocation? Not often, I instinctively knew. I enjoyed the historical aspects of sports as a hobby (ok, at times as a respite from court) and loved to write as well. So, as mentioned, with the support of my family, I delved into a new career and have never really looked back. In fact, after managing a great museum for several years, I reached back into my legal life and created a business that I still own and run, a business that involves museum consultation, professional appraisals and legal services (see www.fcassociates.com). Additionally, I have co-authored a number of books including Baseball Americana: Treasures from the Library of Congress (2009, Harper Collins/Smithsonian Books Publishers). And life goes on.

The lesson here? The quick answer is that “life after law” is often a matter of choice. Let me explain. I know how difficult and challenging being a lawyer can be. Always advocating for a client — right or wrong — can get tiresome. Law can be a joy, of course, but as we all know, a courtroom often reveals a side of life that can be sad, tragic or even sordid.

I also know from my own personal experience that today if one looks around and keeps an open mind there might just be a wealth of rewarding opportunities. The key is to simply open up to the possibility of something new and different, or even daring. For you, it might be simply a matter of doing some thinking, examining what makes you happy and fulfilled, getting serious about exploring your options, and seeing where the journey of life takes you. You might be surprised at what emerges. I know I was. If you give yourself a chance, I bet you will be as well.

© 2009 Frank J. Ceresi, Esq.

Frank Ceresi served as the Curator and Executive Director of Collections for the MCI National Sports Gallery, the country's first all sports museum, from 1997 to 2001 and has written extensively on the history of sports and the value of sports artifacts for numerous publications. From 1987 to 1997, Mr. Ceresi served as Family Court Judge in Arlington, Virginia. Mr. Ceresi is now a partner of FC Associates.

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Updated: Sep 15, 2009