If only law school taught us how to build treehouses, I think we’d be better – and considerably happier – lawyers.
Instead we emerge with our temporal lobes crammed with answers to questions rarely asked, and our essential need for joy and play set aside in service to Having a Career.
And yet, and yet. There is a yearning.
And sometimes at the end of another 12-hour day, we find ourselves sitting at our desks – or standing, if we are ergonomically inclined – grinding out Defendant’s Second Amended Response to Interrogatory No. 7 of Plaintiff’s First Set of Interrogatories – where from our window we glimpse the sun sinking into the trees, and it occurs to us that maybe, just maybe, there is a different Law Life somewhere out there, waiting for us to show up and claim it.
Or not. What busy lawyer has time for such idle thoughts?
Living Your Best Law Life
I sure didn’t. A quarter-century ago, I was too breathless and brain-dead from commuting two hours daily to a corporate law gig while at home trying to keep five miniature humans clothed and fed.
One otherwise ordinary Saturday, my oldest son Bo and his friend Will announced that they’d come up with a plan.
“We’re going to build a treehouse.”
This news delighted me. For some time, Bo had been lost in the Twilight Zone of early adolescence – his verbal output limited to “I don’t know” or “Go away.” Here was an ideal opportunity for some father-son bonding.
All morning they worked on their project. At noon I went outside for an inspection, only to be somewhat underwhelmed. Two pieces of scrap lumber had been haphazardly nailed to a sad pine tree that was too sparse and skinny to support a respectable treehouse.
“No no no,” I said, and led them across the backyard to a proud and sturdy oak. “This is the tree to use.”
For a moment, Bo and Will regarded me blankly, then turned and trudged inside, where they spent the rest of the day watching television.
Does Father Really Know Best?
But I was on fire. I was a zealous advocate. I envisioned a spectacular, multi-level treehouse with a porch and a crow’s nest and perhaps indoor plumbing. I drew a detailed blueprint and prepared a supply list.
But when I showed Bo my amazing plans, he said, “I don’t know.”
And when I invited him to accompany me to Lowe’s to buy pressure-treated decking and galvanized nails, he shrugged and said, “Please go away.”
And so my lovely plans were shelved, and the Treehouse of Dreams was relegated to the out basket, as life continued its monotonous march from one overscheduled day to the next.
Until providence arrived in the form of a new dishwasher. The Maytag itself was just a machine. But the box it came in was something else. Bo took one look at that magnificent container of ultra-thick cardboard reinforced with wooden slats and raced to the phone to call Will.
Within an hour they had hauled the box up the thin pine, hammered it into place on a precarious fork, and cut out windows and a door. From inside it came peals of laughter and happy chatter.
The Play’s the Thing
Lots of lawyers love what they do. But too many others are resigned to a Law Life that is not exactly what they dreamed of. Some parts they really like (the pay, the mental stimulation, the chance to help others). Other parts, not so much (the stress, the competition, the time demands).
Months and years fly by. The weight of expectations and the pressure of making partner or meeting a payroll or maintaining a lifestyle can take a toll. The first casualty is self-care. Often accompanied by a loss of curiosity, wonder and love of play.
Last time I checked, we all only get one spin on this merry-go-round. I say go ahead and build your treehouse any way you choose. Use whatever materials are handy.
So what if it might not survive the first rainstorm or stiff wind? In it, you can be yourself. From it, you can see past the neighbor’s yard all the way down to Arlington Street, where the passing cars look like toys.
Jay Reeves has practiced law and done some other things over the years. His temporal lobe is leaky. Even so, he would love to help build your treehouse. Want a speaker for your next bar meeting, firm retreat or CLE? 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.