“If I want your opinion, I’ll give it to you.”
That’s just one of many funny lines from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a fine new film about what happens when expectations collide with reality. The words are spoken by a domineering spouse to her long-suffering mate.
But they might as easily have come from your average law firm.
Too frequently lawyers are quick to do the thinking not only for ourselves but for our clients and employees as well. We have all the answers. We are stubborn and insistent. We would argue with a stump rather than back down.
Not always of course. But often enough to keep us mired in a bog of self-righteousness.
Great lawyers, on the other hand, love to be proved wrong. Their minds are open. Their beliefs are not rigid. They welcome opposing opinions.
They are capable of adapting like Darwin’s finches to their environment, which is always changing.
That’s another line of dialogue from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – a movie that is ostensibly about a group of seasoned citizens who travel from England to a retirement home in India but is actually a Continuing Legal Education seminar.
Among its valuable lessons:
* Apologize anyway. In an early scene, a stammering Bill Nighy grovels before his irate wife for a decision that turned out poorly. “Would it help if I apologized?” he asks. “No,” she replies. “But try it anyway.” Everybody messes up. Saying “I’m sorry” might not fix the problem, but it will make you a bigger person. It might also stave off a phone call to Lawyers Mutual or a complaint to the State Bar.
* Don’t waste time with regret. Most of us lawyers have a sado-masochistic streak. We have high expectations and demands, sometimes unreasonably so. When we blow a case, botch an argument or bungle an assignment, we brood. One character in Marigold Hotel – who happens to be a British High Court judge - has spent much of his life struggling with shame for something he did as a young man. When at long last he confronts his past he discovers that he was forgiven decades earlier by the presumed victim, who in the meantime has been living a happy life. The judge is the one who has suffered.
* Ideas are not plans. The young manager of the Marigold Hotel has grandiose dreams of turning the place into the Casbah. Unfortunately he lacks a clue as to how to go about doing this, and his dreams are unrealized. It is not until he gets (a) outside help and (b) a concrete plan that things start happening.
* Be yourself. One elderly Romeo hits on every woman in sight by pretending to be someone he is not. Exhausted, he finally drops the charade. Up walks the love of his life. Likewise, great lawyers come in all shapes and sizes. But they all share one thing in common – they are authentic. They know who they are and what they can do, and they are comfortable in that knowledge.
* Take the long view. So easily we lawyers get thrown off our game. In a down economy with demanding clients and fierce competition, the path can seem frustrating indeed. But heed the counsel of the dreamy proprietor of the Marigold Hotel: “Everything will be all right in the end. So if it’s not all right now, that means it’s not the end.”
Ernest (Jay) Reeves Jr. is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has practiced in both states and was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He writes the Risk Man column of practice pointers and risk management tips. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, phone 919-619-2441.