12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 7)

Step 7 – Care About Character and Conduct Yourself Accordingly

We are reviewing Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Steps. This week, we explore Judge Horn’s encouragement to establish a solid ethical and moral foundation, to care about character and conduct ourselves accordingly. Much has been written about the erosion of professional courtesy and the refusal to extend common courtesies in our profession. This has led to a less pleasant and more stressed work environment. In the past, lawyers from various professional backgrounds would meet in more relaxed settings like bar meetings or a lounge at the courthouse, where they could get to know one another on a more personal basis. It was in this setting that codes of behavior were established and conveyed to younger lawyers. While a sense of community still exists, it now occurs more often at the specialty level. Lawyers now think of themselves as trial lawyers, or defense lawyers, beholden only to the rules of their specific community. Younger lawyers who have never been taught by mentors or the community at large about the professional codes of behavior may confuse advocacy with aggression. All of this leads to a pervasive distrust by lawyers of other lawyers.

Judge Horn says we should vow to do what most of us already know is right: strive to conduct ourselves honorably. We should treat others, including opposing counsel, as we ourselves would like to be treated. We should refuse to lie, cheat, or steal, however much pressure we are under, or however profitable the wrong choices may appear to be at that moment. Judge Horn also talks about the “slippery slope of ethical compromise” from which it is “awfully difficult to prevent a full slide into shameless dishonesty.” We become more cynical about the whole idea of right and wrong. An overall sense of fulfillment, difficult to achieve at best, will become more elusive still.

What are we to do? Do not pad your time sheets. Do not tell lies to partners, clients, or opposing counsel. Do not misrepresent legal authority to judges. Do not break your promises. Do not do anything else that is contrary to the values that you now hold. Promptly return phone calls and correspondence. Cooperate during discovery.

If we care about character and conduct ourselves accordingly, we will be able to sleep well at night. And, we will have taken one more important step toward finding satisfaction in the practice of law.

Next week, we will talk about Step 8 – “Just Say No” to Some Clients.

Getting The Help You Need: Turtles On Fence Posts

Some years ago, while I was in Nashville, Tennessee, I attended a show at the Grand Ole Opry. I remember Little Jimmy Dickens saying, “If you see a turtle on a fence post, it had help getting up there.” I wrote it down; saved it for later reference. While the quote has its roots in politics, it is a constant reminder to me that whatever I have done or will do, there are others there to help along the way.

As a young lawyer, our law firm had a policy that a partner would accompany any new lawyer on his or her first jury trial. My partner, Phil Reeves, watched me try a case for an armored car service. Another partner was with me when I defended a trucking company in an accident case. Howard Boyd was there when I did my best to defend a garbage truck driver who ran another truck off the road. Howard was also seated beside me when I took one of my first depositions. After each of these events, my colleague patiently debriefed me on my performance, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Have you ever watched someone else try a case? It is not easy to stay seated and refrain from yelling out, “Objection!”)

Howard Boyd has also been a mentor to lawyers outside our firm.  In fact, I was recently talking to another Greenville lawyer who told me how much he appreciated how helpful Howard had been to him when he was a young lawyer with little experience.

I am grateful for the support that I received as a young lawyer, even now, as an older, more experienced lawyer. It is one of the advantages of being in a law firm with a diverse group of lawyers, all with different styles and perspectives.

Who helped you along the way? Did you have a special mentor? We would all do well to remember what it was like to be a young, inexperienced lawyer. You were a turtle on a fence post, and you had help getting up there!



12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 6)

Step 6 – Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life   

This week, we review Judge Carl Horn’s Step 6, Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life.  This follows the 12 steps that Judge Horn has set forth to help individual lawyers achieve balance and professional fulfillment.  Step 6 reminds us of the additional pressure caused by technology. Judge Horn encourages us to refuse to let technology invade and control every inch of our lives.

Our growing dependence on technology has led to lawyers feeling compelled to stay up on technology but yet they do not know where to turn.  Lawyers find it increasingly difficult to mentally disengage or escape from work when at home or on vacation.   The less personalized communication both diminishes lawyers’ ability to develop relationships with clients and can lead to miscommunication. Work itself has become more rushed and less considered. Our instantaneous access to information pushes performance standards higher. Our clients expect faster turnaround on research and documents. The courts and our clients expect legal work to reflect the most up to date decisions posted on the Internet.

Judge Horn also notes the negative impact technology-related pressures have had on professional satisfaction. For example, practicing law is often less personal and more mechanized. Younger lawyers often spend the bulk of their time in front of a computer screen, which is less stimulating and intrinsically satisfying. Finally, lawyers find it increasingly difficult to put their stamp of professionalism on their work.

So what do we do about it? Judge Horn suggests that we start with drawing a line. We must each decide how much of us is “for sale.” Once we have the courage to draw the line, two basic things can happen. Those who have been applying this kind of pervasive pressure might realize we can perform adequately without being at their “beck and call” 100 percent of the time. The other thing that can happen is that we might lose clients or even lose our jobs. However, Judge Horn is not advocating being lazy or shirking our duty. He is talking about working long and hard, but at some point realizing that we share every human being’s need for private space.

The boundaries are something each individual must work out. Perhaps you block off times during the day in which you need to focus on a particular task, and make sure the phone or email does not interrupt. Some of you may limit your email access when you are away from the office. Whatever your strategy, Judge Horn reminds us that the core objective is the same: To establish boundaries that prevent technology from controlling our lives.

Let us know how you have established boundaries in this area.

Next week, we will review Step 7 – Care about Character and Conduct Yourself Accordingly.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 5)

Step 5 – Live Beneath Your Means

We are currently reviewing Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law, outlined in his book, Lawyer Life – Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law.  Horn sets forth his twelve steps which are based on choices that an individual lawyer can make to enhance professional fulfillment.

Step 5 is to Live Beneath Your Means. The essence of this step is that unless we actively struggle against it, we will find ourselves engaging in consumer spending that severely limits our ability to choose a healthier, more balanced life. How can we say “no” to more fee-generating work when we have all those bills to pay? Horn suggests that if we are to live a balanced life, we must learn to say “no” not only to more work, but also to the consumer spending that seems to make imbalance a necessity. By controlling our spending, we can significantly reduce the financial pressures that stress us out and push an increasing number of us over the edge.

Join us next week for Step 6 – Don’t Let Technology Control Your Life.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 4)

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 4)

In this week’s review of the 12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law, we review Judge Horn’s Step 4 – Implement Healthy Lifestyle Practices. As you may recall, Step 3 was Develop and Practice Good Time Management.

Judge Horn reminds us that there is a positive correlation between lawyers who self-report a sense of subjective well-being and those who engage in certain habits or practices that are deemed “healthy.”  What are these practices?   They include regular exercise; attending religious services; personal prayer; hobbies; engaging in outdoor recreation; pleasure reading; and taking weeks of vacation. In a word, lawyers with other serious interests, those who successfully resist the “all work and no play” syndrome, also consider themselves the happiest.

This is simply common sense. Do not work yourself to death. Get a life. Develop hobbies or other serious, non-work related interests.   Lose yourself in a good book. Keep in touch with your family and friends. Take enough vacation to recharge your batteries. While these are simple ideals, they are essential if we are to achieve the kind of balanced fulfillment for which many lawyers are properly striving.

Next week, we will cover Step 5 – Live Beneath Your Means.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 3)

Step 3 – Develop and Practice Good Time Management

In this week’s review of the 12-Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law, we review Judge Horn’s Step 3 – Develop and Practice Good Time Management. As you may recall, Step 1 was Face the Facts, and Step 2 was Establish Clear Priorities.

Whatever time we spend on our work should be arranged for maximum productivity. Judge Horn suggests that there are at least five areas in which many lawyers could begin to make significant progress simply by paying closer attention. These include the following:  better planning; minimizing interruptions by phone or in person; more careful scheduling and planning of meetings; mastering the paper flow; and more thoughtful and efficient delegation.

As for telephone calls, to the extent possible, we must avoid interruptions while working on priority projects during the most productive period of our day. As far as meetings are concerned, we should make sure the purpose is consistent with our work plan. We should ask ourselves whether a meeting is really necessary, who should attend, and whether the timing is right. If preliminary analysis yields a green light, we should either prepare an agenda for the meeting, or insist that someone else prepare one and then stick to it. As for paperwork, we should touch the paper the minimum number of times necessary. We should read and deal with the paper in a time and manner consistent with our daily plan, not allowing the paper itself to become an inefficient interruption.

Finally, Judge Horn reminds us that if we live by the rule that the way to get things done right is to do it ourselves, we should just get over it. The time and energy we alone have to give, can and will soon run out. What we can accomplish by the thoughtful and efficient delegation to others is significantly less limited. Anything that can be done by others, should be done by them. Those who learn to delegate effectively will free up many of their own hours and see their productivity significantly rise.

Join us next week for Step 4 – Implement Healthy Lifestyle Practices.

Why It Takes More Than Talent

I have previously written about how I became a lawyer. What I failed to include were the bumps in the road along the way.

I was reminded of those bumps when recently reading a column in The Wall Street Journal by Aaron Kuriloff. The writer recalled his own collegiate sailing career, inspired by a 43 year old who was competing for the 2016 Brazilian Olympic sailing team. He wondered if he could have somehow made the U.S. sailing team. On considering this, the writer concluded that while talent matters, persistence also matters. “In fact, it is often the factor that decides which of the most talented make the Olympic team, and which of them win medals.”

This reminded me of my own decision to become a lawyer. I first had to take the LSAT; in fact, I took it twice. My scores were not very good; I was disappointed and wondered if was making the right career decision. I sought the counsel of a Furman University political science professor, also a lawyer. He cited my excellent academic record at Furman and told me that if I really wanted to be a lawyer, that I could do it, that there was a law school out there to which I could be admitted. He encouraged me to keep at it and I did. I was ultimately accepted by three of the four law schools to which I applied, and I graduated from the University of South Carolina School of Law. No, I did not get to attend my first choice law school. But I became a lawyer and continue to practice 29 years later at the same law firm I started with in 1987.

Persistence matters.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 2)

Last week, we began with Judge Carl Horn’s Step 1, Face the Facts. Today, we look at Step 2 – Establish Clear Priorities.

Whether single or married, and, if married with children, whether one or two of the parents work outside the home, there is a widespread sense today that there is never enough time. That is precisely why Judge Horn says that it is crucial to establish clear priorities. As someone once quipped, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” We must know at least where we want to go with our professional and personal lives and prioritize our time accordingly.

To avoid regret later in life, we must realize now that the time we spend with our children will be remembered as precious and as far more valuable than money or any temporary career achievement we may have to forego. Judge Horn suggests making time with your family a top priority and to be sure your daily and weekly schedules reflect it. This does not mean that lawyers, with or without children, should not be prepared to work very hard. It simply means that if we aim to live balanced lives, lines must be drawn beyond which we are not willing to go, at least not on a regular basis.

Judge Horn reminds us that making enough money should be a priority. However, the proper priority in a balanced life, that should be given to making enough money, must not become a license for workaholism or what one commentator called a “money-centered world view.” Money is a means to an end. If balance and happiness are among our life goals, we must be vigilant not to allow money to become an end in itself.

We must learn that if we are to realize professional fulfillment, we must establish and unequivocally live by clear priorities.

Step 2 – Establish Clear Priorities.

Join us next week for Step 3 – Develop and Practice Good Time Management.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 1)

We know lawyers are especially vulnerable to depression and substance abuse disorders. So how do lawyers avoid those problems and achieve a balanced life and fulfillment in the practice of law? In 2003, the ABA published a book, Lawyer Life – Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law, written by the Honorable Carl Horn, III, a former U. S. Magistrate Judge in North Carolina, now in private practice in Charlotte, North Carolina. After examining the profession and its various problems, Judge Horn set forth “12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law,” which is based on choices that an individual lawyer can make to enhance professional fulfillment. For the next twelve weeks, we will discuss each step in the 12 Steps offered by Judge Horn.

Step 1 – Face the Facts

Every 12 Step program begins with an exhortation to those in the targeted group to acknowledge their need. In the current context, perhaps one would say, “I’m a lawyer who went to law school, or began practice with high ideals, intentions to live a balanced life, and all that, but now …” By honestly and openly asking the right questions, we increase our chances, or take the first step, toward a balanced, fulfilling professional life. Are we emotionally healthy? Are we satisfied with the key relationships in our lives? When we look back on these years, will we be pleased with our priorities as evidenced by how we actually spent our time, or will we regret not having spent more time with our family and close friends? In short, do we feel good about where we are professionally and personally, and where our life appears to be going?

Let honesty be the rule here. We must face these facts on a regular basis if our lives are to remain balanced and on course. Lawyers who do not ask these questions, who fail to engage in periodic introspection, are more likely to experience what has been described as “the lingering feeling of emptiness despite material success.”

Step 1 – Face the facts.

Join us next week for Step 2 – Establish Clear Priorities.

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.