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Legally Speaking


Issue: February, 2006
Author: Sean Carter

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Let’s Hear it For the Lawyers

Recently I had a traumatic incident aboard an airplane. About three hours into a cross-country flight, I came to the sudden realization that I was claustrophobic.

I’m not kidding. All of a sudden I had an overwhelming need to extricate myself from that confining metal tube. Realizing that I wasn’t going to be able to convince the pilot to land in the nearest open field or to crack a window, I began pacing up and down the aisles looking longingly at the emergency exits.

Before long, I wasn’t the only person on the plane feeling extremely uncomfortable.

Fortunately, the plane landed ahead of schedule (I suspect we received emergency clearance) and I bolted from the plans, vowing to never fly again.

Of course, honoring this vow would mean the end of my speaking career. (I simply cannot imagine trying to log 100,000 miles next year in my car. One of both of us would break down well before that point.)

That night, I stepped to the podium fully expecting to give my last speech (and hoping to find someone willing to drive me back to Arizona.) Afterward, I immediately headed to the bar to have a drink and contemplate what I would do with the next 40 years of my life (assuming I lived that long after my wife discovered that she wasn’t getting a new car this Christmas—or any Christmas in the foreseeable future).

Fortunately, my misery was interrupted by an audience member telling me how much he enjoyed the presentation. He was followed by another person asking me to sign his copy of my book. Before long, I had a string of people giving me compliments and asking for autographs. One woman even asked me to include my hotel room number along with my signature. And no, I’m not making this up! (Of course, as a wife-fearing Christian, I had to disappoint this fan, but I was flattered by the sentiment.)

At the end of the evening, I realized two important things:

1. I’m even better-looking than I thought.
2. I’m not quitting the speaking business.

Sure, I hate to ride in an airplane, but for that amount of praise, I would fly to my next speech on the outside of the aircraft.

Over the last few months, I’ve reflected on this experience 300 or 400 times and I’ve come to realize that this just might be the solution to the problem of lawyer dissatisfaction.

Every week, I meet lawyers who are willing to hang up their BlackBerries because they are disenchanted with some minor drawback of legal work, such as billable hour pressures or demanding clients. Many of these lawyers think they need career changes when what they really need is some old-fashioned appreciation and praise.

Let’s face it. Practicing law can be a thankless task (at least, the way I did it). I regularly receive more praise for a one-hour speech than I received in my entire 10-year legal career. In that decade, I was never once approached by a partner saying, “Sean, that subordination agreement was incredible! How did that choice-of-law provision go again? The partners will be talking about that for the next six months.” And certainly, I never had a female client approach me with an indecent proposal as a result of, say, a particularly well-worded risk factor in a prospectus.

And while this type of reaction to legal work may seem ridiculous, I’m not so sure. As a lawyer, you perform a much more valuable service to society than I do as a humorist (apparently, I just look much better doing it). You help clients to form and manage businesses that employ thousands. You stand up for the innocent and prosecute the guilty. You literally make a difference in people’s lives, and you make this society a better place for us all to live.

Of course, it would be nice if our clients recognized this fact. Yet, this isn’t always the case. This is why it’s so important for lawyers to recognize and appreciate each other. And I don’t just mean once a year when you rent out a ballroom, get dressed in formal attire and hire an incredibly handsome legal humorist to emcee the event.

Throughout the year, lawyers should look for ways to encourage and congratulate each other. To get the praise ball rolling, you should make it a point to compliment one lawyer in your organization this week. Simply find deserving recipients and slip them notes of encouragement (or your phone number and home address if they’re cute).

You never know. Your words of encouragement could be just what they need to find the courage to deal with billable hours pressures, satisfy the needs of demanding clients, or ask you out on a date.

With this type of encouragement and praise, lawyer dissatisfaction could become a thing of the past, much like my unchaperoned cross-country trips (after my wife reads this column).

Sean Carter is a “Humorist at Law” who comments on law-related news on his website, lawpsided.com and at speaking events. He can be contacted at lawpsided@msn.com.

Copyright © 2006 – Wyoming State Bar