My wife and I visited Venice not long ago. It was a fine summer evening, and we decided to do what comes naturally in this charming city, namely, take a gondola ride. I asked the gondolier how much. The Venetian air was charged with romance and passion, and price, of course, was of no concern. The good fellow replied, “€150 [a.k.a. $225 Canadian loonies] per hour, sir.”
I said, “Thank you, sir,” and we decided instead to settle for a chocolate gelato. This also comes naturally.
While strolling along San Marco Square consuming our gelati, Shoshana and I discussed the gondolier’s charging €150 per hour. Many lawyers would only wish to make this much, or almost double what Legal Aid pays per hour. I asked myself why should a gondolier charge more than a lawyer. What do they have that we don’t have? I decided to make a comparison.
First I considered the popularity factor.
People generally have fantasies about gondoliers being romantic minstrels who sing as they wind their way through the canals. A ride along Venice’s labyrinth of waterways can often be a fairy-tale experience.
A visit to a lawyer evokes a slightly different atmosphere. The greatest similarity to the aforementioned experience one can draw is that many clients claim that lawyers have taken them for a ride. I don’t know about the singing part, but I’m sure that if you ask an assessment officer reviewing a lawyer’s bill, none will tell you that clients have ever suggested that their lawyer, while conducting a cross-examination of a witness, break out singing “O Sole Mio.” Lawyers, however, are known for singing the blues.
As for the romantic part, there are some lawyers whose love lives would leave even the most colourful gondolieri drifting far behind on the Grand Canal. But this reflection is not about Bill Clinton.
And lawyers and gondoliers are both popularized prominently in the arts. Gilbert and Sullivan wrote an operetta called The Gondoliers about the enchanting life on Venice’s canals. However, William Shakespeare wrote, “Let’s kill all the lawyers.”
Then there is responsibility. If lawyers mess up, it’s likely the client will sue them. The gondolier’s job is relatively claim free, short of his running his gondola into another, at all of 5 kilometres per hour.
However, gondoliers probably do have some form or errors-and-omissions insurance. You never know when some disgruntled client might turn around and sue the gondolier for screwing up the song “Funiculi, Funicula.”
Then there is training. I found that although lawyers invest years as students, we constantly had to pursue professional development.
A gondolier can remain at his comfort level indefinitely. After all, what is left after the teacher shows you how to stand upright in the back of the gondola and push your oar? I don’t imagine there was a newsflash in the Gondolier’s Newsletter recently that proclaimed: “Gondolieri! Those black-and-white striped shirts you have been wearing since the year 1542 are no longer valid after October 1. After that date you must switch to sleeveless white undershirts.”
And perhaps the best part of the job as compared with lawyers is that all gondoliers get paid in cash immediately. Over the barrel. Or should I say, over the paddle?
After Lorenzo says “arrivederci” to you, he has already pocketed your €150. With lawyers, in most cases, unless they get all their money up front, they can calmly say arrivederci to their fee. They will have a receivable that will be as useful as an umbrella in Pompeii the day Vesuvius erupted. However, this may sometimes still be better than a government-issued Legal Aid certificate.
A trip to Venice can certainly entice lawyers to make a career change. So what are lawyers waiting for? They have choices. Anybody know where you can get a good deal on those striped shirts?