In the mad bustle of another holiday season, I remember the Christmas a client gave me the best gift a lawyer could ever ask for.
To this day, simply thinking about it brings me peace.
This was back when I was practicing law in a brick building beside a biscuit kitchen, during what could be described as the prolonged pro bono phase of my career. Few of my cases held any promise of financial recovery. Many had been taken as favors for friends and relatives.
And then there was Mr. H.
A courteous, elderly widower who favored Buicks and plaid shirts, Mr. H paid his bills willingly, gratefully and on time. He never once disputed a charge. He was, in short, a dream client.
He first came to me with a speeding ticket. I remember how rattled he was to have gotten it.
“Please,” he said, his voice shaking. “Can you help me?”
A few weeks later when I got a favorable disposition in traffic court, he acted as if I had parted the waters, though mostly what I’d done was stand in line at the courthouse for an hour.
Getting Paid to Be Quiet
After that, Mr. H became a regular. Often he would come in on a pretext. He’d want my help with a health insurance form he could probably have done himself. He’d bring in a legal-looking document that would turn out to be junk mail. He’d ask my advice on tree removal.
We talked about the weather and local politics and the Atlanta Braves. Sometimes I felt bad about billing him. What would the State Bar think of charging a client for discussing Glavine’s changeup?
But Mr. H would remind me of Lincoln’s advice about lawyers and time, and – unlike some of my clients – he insisted on paying for mine.
And in truth, I believed we both received value from our time together. He would come in and talk. I would listen. Now and then I’d chime in with a bit of legal advice, helping him navigate life’s little bumps and turns. But mostly I kept my mouth shut and my ears open – and this was some of the best counsel I ever gave.
Marketing with Magnets
In those days, my life was a blur, with a solo practice and a growing family. Holidays were especially chaotic.
I recall one Christmas being overwhelmed by work deadlines, travel plans and last-minute shopping. Not to mention the stack of unsigned holiday cards for my clients – along with the gift of an attractive refrigerator magnet bearing my name and phone number – which I hadn’t gotten around to sending yet.
One afternoon I was scrambling to get out of the office – with a kindergarten pageant and a neighborhood drop-in still on the day’s agenda – when who should come shuffling in but Mr. H.
Didn’t he know how busy I was? With a weary sigh, I trudged out to meet him in the lobby.
“Glad I caught you,” Mr. H said, serene as always. “I just wanted to bring you a Christmas card.”
Which reminded me of the marketing project languishing on my desk.
“I’ve got one for you, too. Wait right here.”
“Gladly,” said Mr. H, settling into a high-backed leather chair. “I could use a break.”
The Christmas Gift Arrives
Dashing back to my office, I hastily signed a card and added not one but two refrigerator magnets. When I got back to the lobby I found Mr. H sound asleep.
I couldn’t believe it. He was out cold and snoring. I had a million things to do, and the old guy had nodded off.
But he looked so peaceful dozing there. Angelic, almost. And instead of jerking him up and tossing him out the door, I collapsed in the chair beside him. I leaned back and closed my tired eyes. I felt my heart beating. I felt my breath going in and out. I felt the tension in my exhausted body.
And that’s when – without even knowing he was doing it – Mr. H gave me the great gift.
He made me slow down. It was only a few minutes. On the outside nothing had changed. But on the inside – as if by magic – the world seemed less problematic, more manageable.
A Gift That Keeps on Giving
Athletes talk of slowing the game down. Religions teach of finding heaven by being still. It’s a gift we can give ourselves anytime, anyplace.
And yet we work ourselves into a crazed lather over billable hours and motions to compel and refrigerator magnets.
So at this time of year when the world starts pressing in, I picture the two of us sitting there, with the lights low and Christmas music floating softly down the hall, our chests rising and falling in the rhythm of life, quiet amid the swirl and stress. All is calm. All is bright.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. He is happy Tom Glavine made the Hall of Fame and wishes Mr. H was still around to discuss it. His favorite Christmas song is Silent Night. 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.