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

Step 12 – Pace Yourself for a Marathon.

We have now reached the final step in Judge Carl Horn’s 12 Step program for lawyers.  If you have followed steps 1-11, then you are on your way to Step 12: Pacing Yourself for a Marathon. Following the previous steps suggested by Judge Horn will lead to our last goal of a sustainable pace.  In order to pace ourselves for the marathon, we should make it clear that quality of life matters and that while we intend to work hard and pursue excellence professionally, we are not going to sacrifice important relationships and other essential elements of a healthy, balanced life. Professor Dershowitz reminds us that striving for professional excellence is a good and worthy goal.  In sharp and important contrast, trying to achieve perfection is not. Dershowitz observes that “every book, painting, symphony, or speech could be improved. The search for perfection is illusory and has no end.”

Judge Horn closes his 12 step chapter with this encouragement: “Except for the extraordinarily well disciplined, and perhaps the most saintly, these are challenges and issues with which we can expect to struggle for the rest of our lives. But, thankfully, they are not impossible struggles, and if we diligently take these ‘steps’ we can realistically expect to move closer to our goal: finding balanced success and fulfillment in the practice of law.”

Judge Horn then concludes his book with a charge to the jury:

Now, members of the jury, the evidence is in, and it is your turn to deliberate. You have been introduced to the experiences of your fellow lawyers, some happy and some not so happy, and have seen what many are doing to find fulfillment in the practice of law. Members of the jury, it is solely up to you to address the issues that have been raised.   Please retire to your own personal and professional “jury rooms” and do your best to reach a unanimous verdict. When you complete your deliberations, you will not be discharged from further service.   Much to the contrary, your service on this jury is for life, or at least as long as you labor in the law. May you find the “wherewithal” to keep any commitments you have made and may we all be busy and happy engaging in what the law is essentially all about:  doing justice.

We hope you have enjoyed our weekly series on 12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law. Judge Carl Horn wrote this as part of his book, Lawyer Life: Finding a Life and a Higher calling in the Practice of Law, published by the ABA in 2003. Horn’s focus was on the individual choices lawyers can make in their personal and professional lives for better satisfaction in our profession.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 11)

Step 11 – Be Generous with Your Time and Money.

Judge Carl Horn reminds us of “the inverse relationship between selfish materialism and happiness.” Specifically, Horn says that “devoting too much of our time and energy to acquiring will yield an opposite result.” While most of the writing in this area has a narrow focus on pro bono work, Horn’s point is a broader one. “Our primary point here is more selfish, namely, that being generous with our time and money will make us feel better about our profession and our lives generally. In a word, giving generously will make us happier.”

Judge Horn quotes legal commentator Steven Keeva on his encouragement to develop a “helping heart.” Keeva says “those who . . . have been revered for their wisdom and empathy . . . have often been people who believed that the very purpose of life is to be of service to others. Today’s lawyers, being overwhelmingly inclined to minimize the importance of their inner experience are more apt to see personal enrichment as their purpose, at least in their professional lives.”  

Judge Horn states that if fulfillment is one of our goals then “after we provide for ourselves and our families, we will get more satisfaction out of generously giving then we will from hoarding.” Lawyers who are fortunate enough to make more money than they need “should apply this important life lesson by taking Step 11, that is, by looking for opportunities to share their time, talents, and resources with others.” 

Next week is the last Step, Pace Yourself for a Marathon.   

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 10)

Step 10 – Embrace Law as a “High Calling.”

Judge Carl Horn begins Step 10 with the proposition that the legal profession’s failing ideals were once healthy and widely held. At the center of these ideals was the assumption that the best lawyer was “not simply an accomplished technician but a person of prudence or practical wisdom as well.” This included wisdom about human beings and “their tangled affairs that anyone who wishes to provide real deliberative counsel must possess.” The virtue of practical wisdom is “central to human excellence that has an extrinsic value of its own.”   

Horn urges the profession needs to rededicate itself to these higher purposes; individual lawyers should treat the profession as a “high calling.” Horn suggests that we should take a higher road and understand that there are things we will instinctively know not to do. We will not lie or make misleading representations to the court. We will treat opposing counsel in a manner in which we would expect to be treated. We will not cheat or steal from our clients by doing unnecessary work. We will not take on work that we find morally offensive just because “everyone deserves a lawyer,” or for that matter, because we could use the extra money.  

Horn concludes that there is a connection between the collapse of historical ideals and the loss of professional self-confidence. “It follows, if we are to have realistic hopes for regaining professional self-confidence, that we must reaffirm ideals that transcend self-interest – including our individual and professional commitment to the “common good.” We must not allow the legal profession to become an amoral, dollar-driven business; indeed, we should not be afraid to make value based decisions or give advice grounded in moral conviction. In short, if we are to find fulfillment in the practice of law, we must take Step 10: we must embrace law as a high calling.”

Please join us next week for Step 11 – Be Generous with Your Time and Money.

12 Steps Toward Fulfillment in the Practice of Law (Step 9)

Step 9 – Stay Emotionally Healthy

In Step 9, Judge Carl Horn reminds us of the need to balance not only the hours in our lives but to balance our rational and cognitive side with our feelings, emotions, heart and imagination. Simply put, it is important that we stay emotionally healthy. Lawyers spend much of their time disconnected from daily life and often disconnected from themselves. While even highly successful, many lawyers can feel lonely among their fellow citizens. Horn encourages lawyers to “educate their passions and invigorate their imaginations with the same dedication they apply to sharpening their analytic skills.” He quotes George Kaufmann who has written about his experience as a lawyer. Kaufmann notes that imbalance occurs in the lives and personalities of many lawyers because “our training honors our cognitive skills and dismisses information gathered through other channels. As such, we tend to exploit our rational capacities and ignore other parts of ourselves that offer different ways of learning.”

Kaufmann says lawyers should reflect on what our foundational values are, and “then to be honest with ourselves about whether and how well we are putting them into practice.” Lawyers’ experiences often make it difficult for them to find emotional help and balance. Taking the other steps recommended by Judge Horn is certainly helpful in this area, including developing and practicing good time management, implementing healthy lifestyle practices, living beneath our means, not letting technology control our lives, and just saying “no” to some clients. The stress will not resolve on its own; reducing it is an ongoing struggle in which we must actively and continuously engage.  

Horn concludes that we must seek a healthy balance between our rational, cognitive sides, on the one hand, and our feelings, emotions and imagination on the other. We must pursue balance not only in how we spend the limited hours of our lives but also between our outer and inner selves. We must strive to stay emotionally healthy. 

Next week we will address Step 10 – Embrace Law As a “High Calling.”

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.