25 Lessons in 25 Years- Part IV



As we march forward towards number 1, we continue to get great feedback and comments on the first three installments in this series.  I was recently approached by a colleague who offered this bit of wisdom based upon his own experience (which is a few more years than mine): “The older I get, the easier it is to say ‘I don’t know’”.  I love that, and it is very true.  I wish I had thought of it!

            Remember that these are not in any particular order, except for number 1, which will be revealed in next week’s post.   Here are lessons 6-10 from 25 years of practice:

  1. Shades of Gray.  Some people like to talk in terms of things being black and white.  In my experience there are no such things, and everything is simply some shade of gray.  Almost always the “truth” will lie somewhere between the two extremes: sometimes closer to one than the other, but never lining up exactly on all points on one of those extremes.  As a recently retired bankruptcy judge loved to remind people in his court, no matter how thin you make a pancake, it always has two sides.  That is very true in all aspects of the law, and it is good to keep in mind and to remind clients of as we work towards resolving whatever the particular issue may be.
  1. Stop.  Just Stop.  There is an old saying in the law that “About half the practice of a decent lawyer consists in telling would-be clients they are damned fools and should stop.”  I previously talked about how expensive “principle” is.  In addition, there are times where a would-be client comes to you and is considering hiring you, and every instinct from your training and experience tells you that the would-be client should walk away from the particular transaction or situation.  I can recall one instance in particular where my advice was for this individual not to buy the business from his father, because one of the stipulations from the father was that the stepmother needed to stay employed by the business, and the would-be client did not have a very good relationship with the stepmother.  My advice was for the individual to think long and hard about whether or not he actually wanted to buy this business or agree to those particular terms.  I never did hear back from the prospect, and suspect that he either did the deal without our involvement, or perhaps he took my advice and walked away.  Nevertheless, I felt good about giving the advice that he should not go forward with this proposed transaction.  Again, trusting my gut instinct, it was the right advice to give at that time.
  1. Judges Will Get to the Result That They Want.  Often times clients will come to us believing that there is absolutely no way that they could lose the particular lawsuit.  We remind them that judges are people too, and are unlikely to see the case exactly the way the client sees it.  In addition, a judge is going to want to get to a particular result.  The recently retired Hon. Richard Posner of the 7th Circuit, one of the most respected judges in the country, recently stated as much in this interview following his sudden retirement.  So before making any proclamations about what a judge “has to do” in a particular case, remember that judges will have their own set of beliefs and experiences, and those will be different from yours and from the client, and all of that will contribute to the ultimate result in the case.
  1. Nothing Like the Facts . . . .  There is nothing like the facts to mess up a really good argument/lawsuit.  There have been too many times to count where but for one or two particular facts, there would be a really good lawsuit or at least negotiating position to take.  However, all of the facts matter and, because the truth always will come out eventually, those facts will get in the way of what might otherwise be a tremendous result for the client.  While lawyers would love to be able to file a “motion to change the facts”, so far in my 25 years no judge has allowed that to happen.   You play the cards that you are dealt, and do the best that you can.  If only we could change a few of those facts or, stated differently, have a few of those aces up our sleeve, the practice of law would be so much easier.
  1. You Cannot Make Senior Partner in a Year.  We live in a world of instant gratification.  Nearly everything we want we can get in just a few keystrokes, a phone call, or the press of a button.  As a result, we forget that some things still take time, and learning the things you need to learn to be viewed as that trusted, sage counsel, can only come with time.  The point is, I am a much better lawyer now than I was in 1992, not because I am any smarter, but because I have been doing it and experiencing the ups and downs for 25 years.  Just like a child does not walk perfectly on the first attempt, but after years of walking will do it automatically and without having to think about it, so too is the law practice. To get where you want to be in life just takes some time and cannot be rushed. Like so  many of these lessons, this was a difficult one for my Type A, perfectionist self to accept.

            Next week, the Final Five . . . .