I’ve spent nearly half my life as a lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina handing divorce, DUI and criminal defense, and personal injury claims. I just passed my 20-year mark practicing law, and I’m turning 50 in April. Considering these milestones, now seems as good a time as any for a little reflection on what I’ve learned along the way.
Although age is a high price to pay for wisdom, at the end of the day it’s worth the cost. Whether you’re a young lawyer, a client, or anyone from any walk of life, I want to share with you the following 5 lessons I’ve learned about being successful in your life. If you think I am talking about being “financial” success, that’s not my point. To be sure, it’s challenging to be joyful when you are struggling financially. Trust me – I’ve been there! Instead, I am talking about the true measure of success in your life which is reaching a point of understanding about who you are and what your life’s about.
1) Be Humble – I must admit, this is a hard one for many lawyers to master. Lawyers spend their days “taking charge” of other people’s lives such as other people’s marriages, their estates, their need for compensation for the harm they’ve suffered at the hand of another, and so on. Also, many lawyers spend time rubbing elbows with others who have power and influence such as judges and politicians. Lastly, there are those lawyers who’ve found financial success. As a result, some lawyers buy into their own hype and they begin to view themselves as having more importance than others. The same could be said about other learned professions such as doctors. This notion of self-importance is an illusion. Everyone around you plays an important role; don’t take their role for granted. Here’s a simple example. If your garbage man stopped coming by your home for weeks on end and you found yourself wading through piles of your own rubbish, you’d soon come to appreciate his weekly visits, wouldn’t you?
2) Be Compassionate – Depending on what type of law you practice, you may find yourself become jaded or insensitive to your clients’ needs. This doesn’t happen overnight for most lawyers (this includes judges too). Call it the “crush of years” that comes with practicing law. Many lawyers deal with cases that involve heart-wrenching tales of woe where children and spouses are abused, defendants do unspeakable things to others, persons who lie, cheat, and steal to get to the top, and unfortunate souls whose catastrophic injuries have permanently altered the course of their lives. Over the “crush of years,” lawyers become desensitized to these horrific circumstances. They feel that if they don’t detach themselves, then compassion and empathy will drag them down and make them ineffective. Not true. It’s OK to feel compassion for your clients. Instead of allowing compassion turn into depression and dark thoughts about human nature, turn your compassion into a conviction to right wrongs. Sure, you may not win every case or find the justice you seek for every client. Nevertheless, don’t stop chipping away, one client at a time, one case at a time, by channeling your compassion into your chosen profession.
3) Be Giving – As lawyers, we’re in a position to do good for others regardless of financial reward. Ask yourself what you want your legacy to be. Better still, ask yourself what you want your epitaph to read. Which sounds better to you? “So-and-so Esquire was an accident attorney that made a boatload of cash by handling fender benders” or “Mr.