He slept in a car seat in the back of our Bronco II as we drove up the Alcan. After graduation we packed the car as full as we could with all the belongings that we had not sold, along with Matt, and headed north. Took the Alaska ferry from Prince Rupert to Haines, and then drove the rest of the way to Anchorage. He was just 7 months at the time.
Time has flown. Thursday night, my youngest son Joey and I boarded a plane, flew all night to St. Louis and then drove to Washington University to meet more family. We were arriving just in time to attend Matt’s law school graduation. Quite a milestone, for him and for me. It is hard to believe that it has been over 25 years since I was the graduate heading off to Alaska. I tried to talk him into being a doctor. But, you can see how well that advice went over.
Now the real learning begins. When I look back at the person, and the lawyer, that I was all those 25 years ago, I just shake my head. I wish I could have had someone back then who would have taken me under their wing and told me the higher roads to take.
What I wish I’d have heard back then --
Always think before speaking. When your lips are moving faster than your brain cells, you need to slow your tongue down, or bite it real hard. You don’t need to impress everyone with your immediate possession of every answer. You don’t have every answer immediately, everyone knows it, and its okay. Think, analyze, research if necessary, and then speak last of all when you have something worthy of being said.
Respect those who have already walked the road you are traveling. Give them the deference that their years of experience deserve. Whether the particular individual crossing your path at the time is worthy of the respect or not, give it. You will be the better for it, regardless. It is always possible to represent the best interests of your client while showing respect to the other professionals who’s paths you cross.
When you encounter the snide, rude, crass, or disrespectful behavior of some, and unfortunately you will, let it slide. Right off your back like water off a duck. Never, never, never lower yourself to that level. Walk the high road no matter what or who comes your way. A strong representation does not require crassness, it just requires strength. Strength and professionalism are entirely compatible. Be strong, but professional at the same time.
Remember that the legal problems which are to you mere work, often are life altering events for the clients. Save for corporate interests, legal issues revolve around real life. A potential personal or financial tragedy, an injury, a death, a divorce, each involve real people with real lives, families, feelings, and concerns. Strength in representation does not require a swath of destruction in your wake.
When you think you know something, think again. Research, analyze problems all the way through, and then do it again. Don’t be afraid to let another review your writing, and take constructive advice to heart. Write it down, look it through, and then say the same thing in less words. Hone the words until the fat is gone and the meat remains.
When you receive that poison letter or e-mail from another, resist the temptation to write back. Take a deep breath, go for a run. If you must write, fine go ahead and write, but hit delete afterwards. Let a day pass before responding, and then let your secretary read the response and listen when she says its too sharp edged. Start and end every letter with professional cordiality no matter who, and no matter what. Ask yourself if you’d send a copy of that letter to Jesus.
Have fun. Remember to smile, laugh, and enjoy life along your journey. Get home and spend time with that lovely bride and children of yours. Take your wife to dinner, take the kids fishing and play ball with them. No work is worth the loss of that irretrievable time. Cherish and build those all important relationships.
Have courage. Stand for what you believe, say it with conviction, say it even in the face of hostility, and know that when you do your name goes with it. A reputation that takes years to build can be torn down in mere minutes.