People will forget what you said and forget what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
Maya Angelou said that. And it’s my opinion that our profession – and the world at large, for that matter – would be a better place if we kept her words close to heart.
Around a thousand years ago, I was Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. The job came with a Chevy Lumina van, a Kodak carousel slide projector and a mission to spread the 10 Building Blocks of Risk Management to all corners of our great state.
One corner was Sylva – about as cornerest as you can get without being in Tennessee – where the seminar began at 9 AM before a small but enthusiastic audience. By enthusiastic I mean they seemed to appreciate the doughnuts, hot coffee and free admission.
“Our first building block,” I said. “Is ethics.”
But no sooner had I begun than a burly gentleman in a sweater vest whipped out a newspaper and began reading. He made no attempt at subtlety. He made a big display of it, spreading the paper wide and holding it high and turning the pages with great ruffling and fanfare.
To make matters worse, The Reading Man was sitting on the front row, just inches from where I stood. In one hand was my trusty Kodak remote control, and in the other was a brand-new laser pointer that after months of groveling I’d finally convinced John Q. Beard to let me purchase.
The (Laser) Point of it All
Here I must be honest and acknowledge that I briefly considered aiming my pointer at The Reading Man, hoping the red beam would bore through the newsprint and into his inconsiderate skull.
But we were discussing ethics, after all. And I doubted the State Bar would look kindly upon a laser attack on a CLE attendee. So I plowed gamely forward.
“Our next building block,” I said. “Is communication.”
But it was too late. The Reading Man had thrown me off my game. My delivery lacked gusto, my irritation spoiled the punch lines. I was losing the crowd. Most of them were leaning forward to catch yesterday’s box scores from The Reading Man’s upraised sports page.
“Our next building block,” I muttered feebly. “Is conflicts of interest.”
We Are All Building Blocks
The show ended at noon, and I began packing the 10 Building Blocks for a lonely ride home. From the parking lot I saw a commotion on an adjacent street. A car was stuck in the mud, and a few people were helping to push it out.
“Hey!” One of the rescuers was calling to me. “Come give us a hand.”
It was The Reading Man. I was this close to pretending not to have heard, to hopping into the Lumina and returning to a home where I was loved and children who hung on my every word.
But I didn’t. Instead I removed my suit jacket and necktie and trudged over.
“With your help I think we can get it,” said The Reading Man, and showed me where to stand and push.
On the word Go, we all heaved as the driver gunned the engine. The shoulder was soggy from the snow melt, and mud spattered on my wingtips. But the car broke free onto the roadtop, and everyone was happy.
“We did it,” said The Reading Man, clapping me on the back and holding up my arm like I’d won the gold medal.
Making People Feel Terrific
Today I don’t even have a clear recollection of what The Reading Man looked like, other than his sweater vest and newspaper. I probably wouldn’t recognize him if he walked into the room.
But I’ll never forget how he made me feel. During the seminar I felt disrespected and angry. After pushing the car out of the ditch I felt like Muhammad Ali.
Maya Angelou’s birthday happens to fall on the same day Dr. Martin Luther King was killed. But the two share much more than that. Both said and did things that changed the world. They told us we are greater and more brilliant than we could ever imagine. They made us feel like champions.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. He once attended a reading and reception for Dr. Angelou. It made him feel blessed. He still has the laser pointer. Want to jump-start your law marketing or improve your law messaging? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-619-2441.
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.