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The Last Client I Ever Had

by Jay Reeves |

Want to maximize what’s working in your Law Life and minimize what’s keeping you stuck?

Try a Discernment Consultation.

You don’t even have to be stuck to benefit from one. If you’ve had an itch to do something but things keep getting in the way. If you’d like to make a change in your Law Life but aren’t sure what that change might look like, or how to make it happen. If you worry that the days are passing on autopilot and you’re not getting any younger.

A Discernment Consult can help bring clarity.

I was introduced to discernment counseling not long ago, by an acquaintance who is also a leading practitioner. But I have long appreciated its benefits. I even did a little of it myself, without even knowing it.

That was back when I was in solo practice in Chapel Hill – my Franklin Street office just two blocks from Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen and three blocks from The Loop – representing lawyers in licensing and disciplinary matters.

Which leads to a little story …


A Lesson from a Confused Counselor

I had decided to leave active practice for the Limitless Opportunities and Untold Riches of Professional Consulting (or so I had been told) and I began winding down my cases.

I was down to one last open file. But this was no ordinary case. This was one of my most vexing ever, one I had dubbed The Case of the Confused Counselor.

My client was a young lawyer in disciplinary trouble with the State Bar. He came to me genuinely remorseful, having been in the news and discharged by his former firm.

“I want to surrender my law license,” he said in our first meeting, hangdog with self-reproach.

“Okay,” I said, and we discussed the cost, process and time frame for a license surrender.

“Before you decide,” I said. “Do me a favor and go home and sleep on it.” 

When we next spoke, he had done a complete reversal.

“I’ve changed my mind. I want to fight this.”

“Okay,” I said, and we discussed the cost, process and time frame for a trial at the Disciplinary Hearing Commission. 

“Before you decide,” I said. “Go home and sleep on it.” 

Next day, hangdog returned: “I want to surrender my license.”

Plainly, here was a man who knew not what he wanted.


The More You Say It, The More You See It

The only thing he knew for sure was he did not like private practice. Beyond that, he had no vision whatsoever of his professional future. 

So I asked two questions. First: “Is there anything you enjoy about practicing law?” 

“Oh, lots,” he said, and rattled off a list: learning new things, meeting interesting people, helping others, problem solving, supporting my family.

Second question: “How much do you know about law jobs other than private practice that might have those benefits?”

“Not much,” he said.

What followed was a lively brainstorm-and-whiteboard session of potential law jobs in education, government, business, nonprofits and other fields. And while I can’t say my client left with all his inner clouds dispersed, there was an undeniable spring in his step and optimism in his voice.


Everything Exists Twice

A tenet of Discernment Counselling is that everything you say and do happens twice. First in your brain as a thought; then in reality as an action. In other words, if you want something to happen in your life, you first have to see it happening.

The Last Client I Ever Had arrived in my office in a muddle. He was lost in a whirlwind of negativity and self-limiting thinking. When it came to discernment, he could barely see his way to the door, much less the future.

With my first question (“what do you enjoy”), he named and claimed what he liked about being a lawyer. Quite a lot, it turned out. The second question opened a window into the fresh breeze of possibility. Both questions are foundational to discernment counselling.

The Last Client I Ever Had ended happily. He kept his law license, enrolled in the NC Lawyer Assistance Program, and got a job he loved as general counsel for a tech startup.

I claim no credit for his success. He did the hard work. But I gave him one good bit of advice, which was to go home and sleep on it, which helps in most situations.


Want a Discernment Consult?

Could you use a little clarity in your Law Life?

Sometimes it helps to talk to somebody with experience.

For me, Discernment Consults – or clarity sessions, head-clearing conferences, whatever you want to call them – are a culmination of 40 plus years in the profession, much of it spent helping other lawyers. I can’t guarantee an epiphany. But in working with my clients, I’ve found that Discernment Counselling never hurts, almost always helps, and is occasionally transformative. 

Shoot me an email or visit my website to learn more or schedule a Discernment Consult.


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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