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An Inspired Lawyer and The Gong Show

by Jay Reeves |

If you want an instant shot of inspiration in your Law Life, try spending more time hanging out with high school students.

And while you’re at it, be sure to do more listening than talking.

You might come away energized about what you do and brimming with new ideas of how to do it. Who knows, you might even rediscover why you wanted to be a lawyer in the first place.

Recently I met a remarkable group of high school seniors in Pasquotank and Camden Counties. They were being honored for their academic, athletic and civic achievements by the Elizabeth City Rotary Club.

“We can’t pay you a fee,” said my friend, mentor and Elizabeth City lawyer Tony Hornthal, when he invited me to speak at the meeting. “But we can give you a free lunch.”

And just like that, I was dodging turtles on the blacktop near the Great Dismal Swamp as I drove into the rising sun towards the Harbor of Hospitality.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

It is a sobering experience to arrive at the place where you’re supposed to speak and find an enormous brass bell positioned right next to the podium.

Visions of The Gong Show flash through your mind. You picture yourself barely able to mumble “Glad to be here” before you’re gonged into oblivion.

Though as it turned out, the Rotary Club president was not Chuck Barris but a perfectly gracious host. With a wooden mallet he rang the meeting to order. And it was then, as we moved through the agenda, that I got a second jolt.

I learned that the group’s recent keynoters had included a college chancellor, a Navy Seal, and a professional beekeeper. Now they got me. How could I compete with such fascinating people?

Luckily, I didn’t have to, at least not right away.

“Before we introduce our speaker,” said the president. “We have some amazing young people we want to recognize.”

And that’s when inspiration arrived, in the form of a constellation of bright stars named Anna and Brandon and Cassidy and Kaiyah and Dylan and Monique.

A Glimpse of the Divine

These stellar students were introduced by their teachers and principals, who told us of their impressive accomplishments. And what struck me was that every honoree was described in much the same way.

“Ayden is so inspiring,” said one guidance counselor.

“Emma has been an inspiration to the entire school,” said a math teacher.

And it was true. Just seeing them standing there in front of that room full of Rotarians, and hearing about all the wonderful things they had done was, well, inspiring.

So that when the bell again rang, and it was my turn, I continued that theme. I told the group about three inspiring people I’d met in my career.

The hot dog vendor who showed me how to find purpose in even the most insignificant of tasks. The lawyer who taught me that true profit has little to do with financial wealth. The client who reminded me that peace of mind comes from creating space for silence.

All three of those individuals inspired me in ways that made me a better lawyer, husband, father, friend and human being.

We Are All Meant to Shine

Webster defines inspired as “outstanding or brilliant in a way that suggests the divine.” Simply reading those words brings a little thrill.

For too many lawyers, the thrill is gone. We’ve grown jaded with our JDs. We’ve become accustomed to the mundane and the mediocre. We’ve lost the capacity to be dazzled – and to dazzle.

This is what happens when too much emphasis is placed on winning and not enough on inspiring. And yet, all we have to do is look around at our clients, our colleagues – and yes, our children – to get fired up again

And when the hammer strikes that big brass bell, we might be happily surprised at how brightly we shine.

Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. He attended high school in Kingstree, SC (the battling Boll Weevils) where he was not honored by the Rotary Club. Want to learn how to unleash the power of your own unique story? Need a speaker for your next bar meeting, firm retreat or CLE? Contact jay@yourlawlife.com or 919-619-2441.

About the Author

Jay Reeves

Jay Reeves practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He is the author of The Most Powerful Attorney in the World, a collection of short stories from a law life well-lived, which as the seasons pass becomes less about law and liability and more about loss, love, longing, laughter and life's lasting luminescence.

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