I like to think of myself as an individual, but then I must acknowledge that like all individuals I am a product of a particular culture, place and time. The life choices I make now would, I suspect, seem inconceivable to someone of a different time and place, yet would be seen as entirely predictable by an astute sociologist familiar with the circumstances I confront.
Seen from that perspective, the new business soon starting at the farm would surprise nobody. I understand some of you, long-term readers or listeners, upon hearing about a new venture being undertaken here, already have little cogwheels of suspicion spinning doubts in your mind. In past years, we’ve announced such ventures as experimental pineapple cultivation supervised by a Bard student from Hawaii, a new line of chocolate flavored eggs achieved by feeding the chickens waste almond dust from the Hershey Bar factory, and the transformation of the farm into a foundation to improve animal etiquette (in order to achieve a total tax exemption), only to get resentful blowback when tickets to the celebratory harvest luau and cartons of chocolate flavored eggs proved to be chimerical.
But each of those new farm ventures was announced on April 1. The change I’m announcing today will happen on May 1, and I assure you it is very real. The Mark Scherzer Law Office is coming to the farm. I’ve been preoccupied with moving it here from New York City for the last several weeks.
Such a move would have been inconceivable for me even five years ago. My image of a law office included a formal reception area with a receptionist, an impressive array of law books lining the shelves of a library/conference room, and an imposing desk. My place was behind the desk in a big office chair, my clients across from me in less imposing chairs, confirming that they were supplicants for my superior knowledge and counsel. And that office had to be in Manhattan, because in my view you couldn’t be a person of stature unless you were based in a major metropolitan center, preeminently Manhattan.
The result of my devotion to that ideal was that for nearly forty years I led a dual existence, my real spiritual home and the center of my social life taking place weekends in the country, and weekdays spent devoted to work in Manhattan.
The underpinnings of my divided life have been subtly eroding over the years, largely through the internet and other technology. I found myself meeting fewer and fewer clients in person, as emailed pdfs replaced physical examination of carefully preserved original paper documents. Libraries became obsolete as legal research transformed to searches of electronic databases. To prospective clients, my stature was better demonstrated by an informative website than a well furnished office in Manhattan. And because clients themselves were able to better educate themselves online, the dynamic of omniscient lawyer / dependent client transformed to a more egalitarian relationship.
I might never have responded to those changes, being a creature of habit, if not for the COVID pandemic. As I, like so many white-collar workers, started working remotely from home, it became clear that for my type of work a physical office was only marginally useful. We turned out to be even more productive, in my view, working from networked computers in our homes.
For me, the realization of that productivity dovetailed with my own life changes – my partner, Peter’s, death and the consequent lack of a resident manager of the farm; my unsuccessful attempts to have others take over the farm operation; and my attaining an age when, if not retiring, I needed to find a less exhausting way of continuing to both practice law and run the farm myself.
Thus, after much internal debate, I decided not to renew the office lease that expires this month, to move the main office computer and other technology to my home office, and to go forward as a largely virtual office.
The transition is leading to all sorts of changes here. This week, I finally disposed of my inoperable and no longer essential farm pick-up truck, needing to make room for the moving van that will bring the contents of the office, including dozens of boxes of files and much excess office furniture, art and equipment here (watch for the yard sale). I’m busy shredding old papers to make room for what’s coming.
I am, of course, not alone in making this type of move. As more and more long term leases expire, landlords in Manhattan, which has for more than 100 years had an economy centered on providing offices for people to work in, will find themselves with lots of empty space. The City will have to reinvent itself.
Make no mistake, I still love the beauty and energy of the City, the dynamism of the close collisions of diverse cultures that produces new ideas and fosters open-minded tolerance. With my beau Éric and many other friends still working and living there, and with plenty of culture I still want to experience, I know I’ll be bouncing back and forth quite a bit.
But I am excited to be centered in just one place I love, to no longer be maintaining three venues (home, apartment, office), and to be able to do physical farm work along with desk work every day. If clients call and find me in the chicken coop with the rooster crowing, they’ll just have to understand that they’re getting a more refreshed, fulfilled lawyer than the one who spent all those years trudging down to the office.
WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK:
EGGS: $5/doz Plentiful, spring light has arrived, if not spring.
Fresh horseradish root: $4/lb.
Garlic chives (flat leafed): $1/bunch
COMING IMMINENTLY: Rhubarb and sorrel.
LAMB COMING: Lamb should be back from the slaughterhouse in a any day now. Stay tuned.