This Valentine’s Day, I am grateful for the lawyers in varying degrees of distress I have worked with over the years.
I hope each of them is happy and safe. I am glad our paths crossed, if only briefly. I became a better lawyer and person by serving them during their trials and tribulations, and by standing at their side on their worst days.
Life is hard and the law is a tough business.
But life is also joyous and healing and affirming, and the law is a uniquely excellent place for us to grow, shine our lights and be of service to others.
I learned these things in part from my lawyer cases. And I witnessed first-hand how a person can go from feeling broken and worthless to feeling blessed and optimistic in a surprisingly short amount of time – provided they are willing to take the first steps.
An example was the bright young lawyer who opened the paper one day to find his name in the police blotter, and then did something foolish that only made matters worse.
His story is the ultimate Valentine’s Day story, because it is about the redemptive power of love.
Read All About It
When I first met this lawyer, he was nursing a sore knee. He told me after seeing his case in the police blotter, he blanked. It was early morning and misting rain. He was standing in his driveway, in slippers and a bathrobe. He got a bright idea. He would gather up all the papers in the cul-de-sac so his neighbors would not see his embarrassing news. As he turned, he slipped and fell onto the slick asphalt. A car braked to a halt not far from where he lay in the road.
“Are you all right,” yelled the driver, a friend from down the street.
“Fine,” he said, getting up.
That’s when he realized what a terrible idea this was – silly and pointless and also unoriginal, he told me later, having seen a movie or John Grisham book where someone swipes all the papers. It didn’t work.
“Lucky I wasn’t run over,” he said to me when we first met in my office.
My Funny Valentine
He had come to me for representation in the State Bar investigation of the criminal matter he had tried unsuccessfully to conceal. He spent most of our first session beating himself up. He was convinced he had ruined everything.
Rarely have I ever seen a lawyer-client in such misery. It was hard for him to consider positive outcomes, much less plan for them. All he saw was catastrophe.
A glimmer of hope came when the State Bar agreed to a stayed suspension of his law license. That hope burst into full-blown recovery when he signed up for the State Bar Lawyer’s Assistance Program. He worked the steps and began seeing a counselor. In no time, he was seeing the fruits of new, healthy habits.
He also came to better understand the workings of his mind – especially the dusty, dark corners we all possess – and the longings of his heart.
The 5 Love Languages
He gave particular credit to the book The 5 Love Languages. He and his spouse had even gone to a 5 Love Languages retreat.
The genius of Gary Chapman’s best-seller is it distills the idea of expressing love – which can easily become complex, confusing and overwhelming – into five simple things we do every day.
Simple but not easy. What’s easy is to get swept up by our limiting beliefs and negative thinking into a place that is just the opposite of love.
And here I should confess that not all my cases had Hallmark endings. I was no miracle worker. Not everyone has the courage and desperation of that young lawyer who was able to acknowledge powerlessness and seek help.
“You look like a different person,” I said in one of our last meetings.
He called his recovery a celebration. He said he was finding new ways to use his gifts (one of the love languages) to better serve his family, community and clients (service is another one). He was positively glowing.
Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina and is author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World. He runs Your Law Life LLC, which helps lawyers and firms improve their well-being and create saner, more successful law lives. He is available for talks, presentations and confidential consultations.