Issue: June, 2006
Author: Donald N. Sherard
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Musings of an Old Country Lawyer
By way of background, my parents, Nelson H. Sherard and Adella Hubbs, as children came to Wyoming by covered wagons with their families from Missouri and Illinois, respectively. They were married in 1895 in what was then a part of Laramie County, Wyoming. My three older brothers, Oscar, Raymond, Floyd and I were raised on a small ranch near LaGrange, Wyoming.
In 1931, William and Sophia Wendt moved from Nebraska with their family, including their youngest daughter, Clara Jean, to a farm approximately one mile from my parents’ home near LaGrange, Wyoming.
On October 5, 1947, Clara Jean and I were married in Cheyenne, Wyoming, and we were blessed with three children: Dr. Brent Sherard, presently the State Health Office and department head of the Wyoming Department of Health; Stephen N. Sherard, my law partner in Wheatland since 1980, and my daughter, Sally Jean Oates, a high school teacher at Kelly Walsh High School in Casper, Wyoming. Clara Jean and I enjoyed 56 years of married life until she died March 16, 2004 from cancer.
This year Alice Pontarolo and I were married in Wheatland, Wyoming.
After returning from military service in World War II with the 15th Air Force, I completed my pre-law curriculum and graduated from the University of Wyoming College of Law. On September 6, 1949, I was admitted to practice law in the State of Wyoming. I purchased a small law library and a lease in Wheatland from Mr. O. O Natwick, an elderly and highly respected attorney who was a former State Land Commissioner and State Liquor Commissioner.
I opened a law office and hoped that I could attract some clients. Business was lean during the balance of 1949. It was lonely without clients so I spent considerable time across the street in the basement of Woods Grocery playing ping-pong with Mr. Frank Woods, the owner of the store. When a prospective client wanted to see me, Virginia Gibb, the secretary of the Wheatland Irrigation District, with whom I officed, would call the store and a clerk would call me up from the basement. I would then sneak in the back door of my office and come to greet my client with much enthusiasm. When the office conference was over I returned to playing ping-pong. My wife, Jean, and I had a very conservative first year Christmas; as she gave me a can of Sir Walter Raleigh pipe tobacco and I generously gifted her a new pair of nylons.
On a lonely Friday morning in April of 1950 a prominent Wheatland Resident, G. W. Goodrich, the manager of the Wheatland Rural Electric Association, came into my office and asked me to look up a corporate provision in the statutes, which I did. He then informed me that a lawyer should not bill a client merely for information, but if a client requested an opinion, a fee would be justified. Fortunately, I suppressed my irritation. The following Monday he returned to my office. I was prepared to take issue with him, but before I had an opportunity to respond, he asked me if I would be interested in the position of general counsel for the Wheatland R.E.A. He never questioned a billing and forty seven years later, I resigned from the position. My son is now its attorney. This led to my representation, as Wyoming Counsel for Basin Electric Power Corporation, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, Inc., Western Fuels Association, Wyoming Rural Electric Association (statewide) and associated cooperatives.
My practice, as any small town country lawyer, has been quite diverse over the years. I prepared tax returns, did divorce work, collection work, defended criminal cases when appointed by the Court, prosecuted a number of criminal cases as prosecuting attorney, and a 1st degree murder defense in my first few years of practice. I then worked into real estate transactions, estate work, and personal injury cases. Toward the end of my practice I did primarily corporate and estate work. I was in charge as Wyoming counsel in carrying forward the permitting process of the Laramie River Station near Wheatland.
When I reached the age of sixty-five, I was tempted to draw social security thinking that it might be time to put my head into the public trough rather than continuing to support the government's social programs.
Realizing the problems of continuing to report self-employment income, I deferred applying for social security until I reached seventy years of age. At that time, I formally announced my retirement. It was a wonderful experience. Our secretaries (now I understand that they are referred to as administrative assistants) arranged a party and everyone came bearing gifts. Steve and Rex (who knew me pretty well) bought me a new office computer, and I was the recipient of fine retirement cake and an abundance of good wishes.
I found it difficult staying home so I continued going to the office. I discovered that the 12 months of my seventieth year was the most lucrative that I had experienced. Thinking that I might be able to wangle another retirement party with gifts, I announced my second retirement at the beginning of my seventy-first year and invited my partners and secretaries to a party and suggested that gifts would be acceptable. Surprisingly, there was no response. Each year thereafter through my eighty-second year, I continued to announce my retirement - still with no response.
At eighty-three, I requested and obtained retirement status from the Wyoming Supreme Court thus avoiding CLE obligations and elimination of having to carry professional liability insurance.
The people of Platte County were generally very friendly and supportive of me and my beloved Clara Jean. I was elected to four terms in the Wyoming House of Representatives, and County and Prosecuting Attorney employed by the Town of Wheatland for 25 years. I was also the Town Attorney for Wheatland and various other municipalities and supporting me in a number of other positions.
Practicing in a small town with "walk in" offices on the first floor is more accessible to unwanted clients, practical jokers, and lacks the privacy and dignity of the larger law firms.
Approximately twenty-five years ago, late in the afternoon I heard the commotion of several dogs growling and barking outside of my office. The door to my reception room opened and in came a skunk with three dogs chasing him. The skunk was hissing and snapping at the dogs. The menagerie was followed by one of my ranch clients, Claire Milton of Guernsey. Claire's response to my objection was: "Not to worry, the skunk is de-scented."
On another occasion, Robert Huston, a wheat farmer from Slater, opened the door to my reception room and into my office came a mature bobcat. The cat was the largest that I had ever seen. From my standing position on the center of the desk, I told Bob to get the animal out of the office. Laughingly, he responded: "Don't worry, he has been defanged." I told him to take the animal outside before he decided to "gum me.” Bob then proceeded to take me and his feline friend to the office lavatory, where Bob had his pet demonstrate to me that he was even potty-trained!
A bobcat appears to be larger when it is standing next to a desk in a small office.
In 1980, my son, Stephen N. Sherard, and his and my lifelong friend, Rex E. Johnson became my partners in my law practice. Cole N. Sherard, my grandson joined the firm in 2004.
In spite of the criticism of the "golden years," I can look back with the satisfaction of serving my clients to the best of my ability and the further satisfaction of being able to pass along the bulk of my practice to my son, Stephen, my grandson, Cole, and Rex Johnson.
I wish them well.
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