The Perfect Is The Enemy Of The Good

The phrase “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good” can be traced back to one of Voltaire’s 18th century poems. Shakespeare expressed similar sentiments: “Were it not sinful then, striving to mend, to mar the subject that before was well?”

Doing a good job becomes almost impossible when we strive to do it perfectly. In many cases, we do not begin the project, much less finish it, since we know it cannot be done perfectly. How many times have we been afflicted with “paralysis by analysis,” pursuing perfection?

Perfectionism can lead to negative consequences. Research suggests that those who suffer from intense perfectionism are at higher risk for suicide. They are driven by an intense need to avoid failure. To these people, nothing seems quite good enough, and they are unable to derive satisfaction from what ordinarily might be considered even superior performance (Dr. Sidney J. Blatt, “The Destructiveness of Perfectionism:  Implications for the Treatment of Depression,” American Psychologist, Volume 49, Number 12 (1997)).

In Stress Management for Lawyers, Dr. Amiram Elwork notes that perfectionism is rewarded in both law school and the practice of law. However, it can lead to negative thinking: “If I don’t do it perfectly, I’m no good; it’s no use; I should just give up,” or “I have to do it perfectly and I can’t quit until it’s perfect.” This type of thinking can lead to isolation and depression.

In his book Lawyer Life: Balancing Life and a Career in Law (American Bar Association, 2003), Judge Carl Horn said that striving for professional excellence is a good and worthy goal.  In sharp and important contrast, trying to achieve perfection is not.  In his book, Letters to a Young Lawyer, In his book, Letters To A Young Lawyer,  Alan Dershowitz wrote a chapter titled, “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Excellent.” He observed that “every book, painting, symphony or speech could be improved.  The search for perfection is illusory and has no end.”

As Judge Horn advises, we would do well to strive for professional excellence but be wary of any tendency we may have toward perfectionism.

Real Lawyers Don’t Cry

My parents, Grady and Mary Mauney, were good friends and neighbors of the local Chevrolet dealer, Bill Turner, and his wife, Trilby. They had two kids about my age, and then later had another child, TK. At a young age, TK developed meningitis and was hospitalized at Bowman Gray Hospital in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. TK was eventually placed on a ventilator, her prognosis poor. I rode with my parents from Forest City, North Carolina to see Bill and Trilby at the hospital. I still remember the steadfast strength shown by Bill Turner while facing this personal tragedy. Trilby demonstrated her own strength through her faith in God.

We listened as Bill described how the doctors had just reported the results of an EEG, which showed no brain activity. They were faced with a gut wrenching decision. I watched as my Dad listened, saying little, but offering his support through his presence there. His eyes welled up with tears. I had never seen my Dad cry. He probably had, especially when his brother Charles died a few years earlier. My Dad was a real man, lover of sports, a father of three, husband to my Mom. He was a professional, a dentist, who took pride in his work and his family. But I had never seen him cry. Until he sat next to Bill Turner and learned of TK’s likely fate. She died shortly after our visit.

As lawyers, we are most often problem solvers, working through difficult situations for our clients, perhaps resolving some conflict. We are trained to dispassionately scrutinize the facts and analytically apply the law to those facts. In doing so, lawyers often neglect their internal feelings, suppressing their innermost emotions and thoughts in favor of cold, analytical reasoning. The result is that lawyers often struggle with their own mental health, not paying enough attention to that side of ourselves. We need to be reminded of the importance of our own emotional well-being, taking the necessary steps to be both physically and emotionally healthy.

It was appropriate for my Dad to cry that day, as he visited with Bill and Trilby Turner. It was an emotionally healthy thing for him to do. It showed that he understood the depth of their suffering.  As professionals, we should learn that lesson and let ourselves fully experience our emotions under appropriate circumstances.

How I Became A Lawyer

I recently wrote on Abnormal Use about the importance of storytelling for lawyers when marketing themselves and their law practices. As I said then, I was inspired to work on some of my own stories. This is the result of that initial effort.

When I first went to Furman University as a student in the Fall of 1980, I wanted to be a doctor. My Dad was a dentist, and I knew that was not for me. But I did like the life sciences, including biology and anatomy. So, I filled my first year with Botany, Zoology, and Calculus, laying the groundwork for my pre-med curriculum. The next fall, when it was time to register for classes, I found myself in line to register for Organic Chemistry, the course that separates the wheat from the chaff. I hesitated. I began questioning why I wanted to be a doctor and whether I had truly considered any other path. I walked away from that registration line that day and spent the next year wandering in the wilderness.

During that year, I spent time with the Furman chaplain, Dr. Jim Pitts, exploring whether I was being called into ministry as my vocation. I even spent a semester as a volunteer hospital chaplain at Easley Baptist Hospital. It readily became apparent that was not the path for me, but I did get the chance to preach on Youth Sunday at my home church of First Baptist in Forest City, North Carolina. My uncle, Dr. John Johns, then President of Furman, was in the congregation that day. A friend recently reminded me of my uncle’s comments after hearing my sermon: “You would make a fine lawyer,” apparently referring to my ability to communicate effectively. Not long after that, I made an appointment with him to discuss it further. He encouraged me to seriously consider the law as my chosen profession.

Later, I sat down with one of my Dad’s lawyer friends, Tolliver Davis, who was the U.S. Magistrate for the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina. He patiently answered my questions about the law. After this due diligence, I decided I wanted to be a lawyer. I was probably not sure why, or even what type of law in which I was interested. What I did know was that my Dad respected Tolliver Davis as a man of integrity. That was the beginning point, and how I became a lawyer.

I changed my major to Political Science; I graduated from Furman in 1984 and the University of South Carolina School of Law in 1987. I have been practicing with the law firm of Gallivan White, & Boyd, P.A. in Greenville, South Carolina ever since.

The practice of law has changed dramatically over the last 29 years. Law firm economics and the business of law have become increasingly difficult, more demanding. Yet, I have never regretted my decision to become a lawyer. I enjoy helping people and businesses with their problems, whatever they may be. Now that I think about it, not only do you know how I became a lawyer, you now know why as well.

Success Is Found On The Far Side Of Failure

My wife recently sent me a video clip of author J.K. Rowling talking about the benefits of failure. Her marriage had failed, she was jobless and a single parent. Rowling said, “I was the biggest failure I knew.” But once she stripped away the nonessentials in her life and stopped pretending about who she was, she found the determination she needed. She was set free to do the one thing in her life she knew she was meant to do. Her greatest fear had been realized, yet she was still alive. By reaching rock bottom, she found the foundation upon which she rebuilt her life. Rowling said that failure is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something “unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not live at all, in which case you fail by default.” Rowling concluded by sharing the traits she learned about herself. She had a strong will, discipline and many faithful friends. And she was secure in her ability to survive.

Rowling’s words reminded me of one of my favorite quotes: “Success is found on the far side of failure.” Is that not what Rowling was trying to tell us? She found success after hitting rock bottom, learning some things about herself along the way. It was that strong will and determination that propelled her successful career. When have you failed as a lawyer and found success on the far side? I still vividly remember my first few jury trials as a young lawyer. One of our partners was always present to bail me out if needed, and more importantly, to assess my performance once the verdict was rendered. Whenever I am in court, whether arguing a motion or trying a case, I try to debrief afterward. What went well? What could I have done better? If the case is resolved short of trial, which is most often the case, did I move the case along appropriately? Did I get a good result for the client? If you are a young lawyer, insist that a more experienced lawyer go with you to your first hearing, your first deposition. Look for opportunities for other lawyers to help you learn from your mistakes. Don’t hide from them; dissect them openly. Take advantage of the feedback; learn from your failures.

Storytelling for Lawyers

We have all read about the importance of telling a good story as part of any trial strategy, whether in an opening statement or a closing argument, but what about in our own personal marketing or when promoting our law firm? Yes, you have the 60 second elevator speech that you can use, but what about a story that informs others about what you can do for your clients or what your law firm is capable of doing for its clients?

I recently read a Wall Street Journal article by Susan Credle, global chief creative officer for FCB, one of the largest advertising agency networks. In the article, Credle says “data and technology dominate the conversations.”  There is creativity but it is often formulaic. Credle laments the absence of “bright moments when someone creates a piece of work that captures our imaginations and our hearts.” Credle’s theory is that the advertising industry has “forgotten that first and foremost we need to be storytellers.” She says the best in their industry are “relentless storytellers” whose brands are purpose-driven and whose stories are authentic.  The story is told and retold, over and over again, in “new, surprising and creative ways.” As Credle notes, this storytelling is an investment, and with each new investment, “the brand becomes more valuable.”

Credle encourages others to seize the opportunity, even the responsibility, “to create famous, lasting brand stories.” She asks if we are dreaming big enough, if we are walking away from what could be some legendary stories. Credle concludes “It is about a relentless and lasting commitment to a brand’s story, and the elation of waking up every day with an opportunity to help write the next chapter.”

Credle’s premise is that our stories create the most valuable brands. Have you thought about what stories you can tell? Can you write a story about your practice that is memorable and effective? I have been inspired by Susan Credle’s emphasis on storytelling. So, I am going to work on some of my stories. I think I will start with the story of how I decided to become a lawyer.

Until next time . . . .

The Power Of Your Voice

I recently received a phone call from an old friend, long since retired. He just wanted to catch up on things. He did not send me a letter through the mail. He did not send me an email over the Internet or a text. It was a real live phone call. It was so good to hear his voice. I cannot tell you how much that call meant to me.

Perhaps we should remember the power of our voice. The next time you need to communicate with a client, pick up the phone! It makes a difference. The next time you need to address a difficult issue with opposing counsel, don’t start off by sending them an email. Use your voice! My friend set an example for us. Do you have someone who needs to hear your voice? What about the next time you need to deal with a sensitive issue in your law office? It is so easy and convenient to fire off an email.  Instead, get out of your chair and walk down the hall to do it in person. Not only are you using your voice, but you have added the power of your presence.

Remember the power of your voice.

The Good Lawyer

I have often heard clients say “We do not hire law firms; we hire lawyers!”  So, who do they hire?  They tend to hire someone they like and trust, and who knows their business like the back of their hand.  But beyond that, what makes a “good lawyer?”

I recently attended a meeting with an insurer with whom our firm has a relationship.   A number of areas were covered, including the relationship between the insurer, outside counsel and insureds; the importance of compliance with litigation guidelines; the company’s claims handling philosophy; and the importance of timely communication with both the insurer and insured. Then, we heard from a claims officer who had recently read some wisdom on what makes a “good lawyer.”  She shared the article with us; it provided some useful reminders (although the original author and publication are unknown). If you know who first penned these words, let us know!

The Good Lawyer

  1. Is always honest and truthful.
  2. Listens to the client.
  3. Knows who the client is, remembers who the client is, only represents the client, and does not surprise the client.
  4. Communicates with the client.
  5. Is the messenger, not the message.
  6. Is willing to tell the client or prospective client that the law sometimes does not offer a remedy to every particular problem.
  7. Explains everything to the client in terms that the client can understand.
  8. Has a positive attitude, but does not promise success.
  9. Always honors the attorney-client privilege.
  10. Is always alert for potential conflicts of interest and investigates and resolves all potential conflicts before undertaking any representation.
  11. Becomes knowledgeable about the applicable law and facts with regard to the client’s case.
  12. Maintains their objectivity about their client’s case.
  13. Never underestimates an opponent and never embarrasses anyone.
  14. Treats everyone with the respect and dignity that the lawyer expects to be treated.
  15. Strives for excellence. Excellence with humility in the representation of the client.
  16. Is diligent, persistent and relentless in the pursuit of representing their client.
  17. Adheres to the highest professional and ethical standards.
  18. Is proud of being a good lawyer and how they serve each of their clients.

In response, please share your own thoughts on what makes a good lawyer.


Pro Golfer Jordan Spieth – Grace And Dignity In Defeat

I have been following The Masters since I was a kid. The first time I attended in person was in 1973 when Georgia native Tommy Aaron won. Over the years since then, there have been many Sunday back nine collapses. This year, Jordan Spieth hit two balls in the water on #12, ending with a quadruple bogey. While he made a rally with two birdies, he ended up losing to Danny Willett. The difference between Spieth’s defeat and the other recent collapses is that Spieth already owns the Green Jacket that goes to the winner.

In 1979, journeyman pro, Ed Sneed, had a 5-shot lead to start the day and a three-stroke lead with three holes to play. He bogied all three, landing in a playoff with Tom Watson and Fuzzy Zoeller, who ended up winning. In 1985, Curtis Strange had a three-shot lead when he came to the 13th hole. His aggressive approach ended up in Rae’s Creek.  He then dumped his approach into the water on #15 and lost by two strokes to Bernard Langer.

Then you have Greg Norman. In 1986, Norman came to the last hole needing only a par to tie Jack Nicklaus. He flared his approach shot wide right, bogeying the hole and losing by one. The very next year, he was in a sudden death payoff with Augusta native Larry Mize, safely on the 11th green with his second shot. Mize hit his approach shot wide right, missing the green, and leaving a treacherous downhill 140 foot chip.  You know the rest of the story; he holed the impossible shot and broke Norman’s heart.  Fast forward to 1996. Norman held a commanding 6-shot lead going into the final round, only to shoot 78 and lose to Nick Faldo, who shot a closing 67. Then in 2011, Rory McIlroy had a 4-shot lead entering the final round before a triple bogey on #10. He then four-putted #12, shooting a final round 80 to lose to Charl Schwartzel, who birdied four straight holes to win.

All of these gentlemen showed grace and dignity in losing what many golfers consider the Holy Grail. This year, as the defending champion, Spieth had the duty of placing the Green Jacket on the winner – twice. They did it once in Butler Cabin for the TV audience, and then again in an outdoor ceremony. Spieth was bitterly disappointed, obviously hurting, but he showed uncommon maturity in both instances and especially in answering every last question from the reporters after his round. He was both honest and forthcoming in his answers. He should be remembered for the way he handled defeat – with grace and dignity.

Greenville, South Carolina Hosts Southeastern Symposium On Mental Health

The Southeastern Symposium on Mental Health will be held in Greenville, South Carolina on May 5-7, 2016. GWB shareholder Stuart Mauney will be presenting at the Symposium on “Occupational Hazard:  When Doctors or Lawyers Get Depressed.” Stuart is a long time mental health advocate and frequent speaker on mental health issues in the legal profession. He presented at the Mid-Year Meeting of the International Association of Defense Counsel (IADC) in Pebble Beach, California, on February 22, 2016. He was also featured on a panel for a nationwide ABA suicide prevention webinar on March 21, 2016.

The goal of the Symposium is to promote awareness about mental health issues, reduce stigma and discrimination, and inform public policy. Keynote speakers include actress and mental health advocate Mariel Hemingway at a dinner on May 6, and former Congressman Patrick Kennedy at a luncheon on May 7.  Kennedy is the author of a recent book, A Common Struggle: A Personal Journey Through the Past and Future of Mental Illness and Addiction.

You can find out more information about the Symposium, and for registration at

Road Rage And Conflict Resolution

When was the last time someone cut you off with a quick lane change on the Interstate? Did you curse them or give them the “finger”? Maybe someone dashed into that prime parking spot just ahead of you. Or, that sports car was tailing you just a little too closely, so you tap on your brakes? Chances are none of these incidents resulted in death or even physical violence. However, recent events remind us that road rage remains a serious problem on our highways.

Former NFL Football player, Will Smith, who won a Super Bowl with the New Orleans Saints, was recently shot and killed in an apparent road rage incident in New Orleans. In its article on Smith, USA Today reported that this was our country’s third high profile road rage incident in less than a week. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration data tells us that road rage or aggressive driving were reported as a factor in 375 fatal crashes that resulted in 418 deaths in 2014.  A recent survey by the AAA “found 87% of respondents said they believed aggressive drivers were a ‘somewhat’ or ‘very serious’ threat to their personal safety.”

It sounds like we all need to refer back to our basic driver training courses. However, some have suggested that solving the road rage problem has more to do with psychology than driving skills. Jeff Asher, a crime data consultant, was quoted in the USA Today article as saying, “It’s about conflict resolution. It starts in childhood, with education. Teaching people to resolve their conflicts peacefully.”

Asher makes a good point. Perhaps our schools could do a better job of educating our kids about conflict resolution. Perhaps our churches could do a better job of reminding us that “blessed are the peacemakers.” Perhaps each of us could individually do a better job of keeping the peace, both in our personal lives and while driving on our highways. The next time you get cut off in traffic, perhaps the best advice is to count to ten and move along.