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The Lawyer Who Stopped Chasing Squirrels

by Jay Reeves |

Over the years, I have represented lots of lawyers who had unsatisfying Law Lives because they were chasing after the wrong things. 

This was not my judgment, mind you. This was by their own admission, though it often took them a while to realize it. For years – sometimes decades – they had been too busy waking up each morning, putting on their lawyer hat, and doing what they did the day before to indulge in career introspection. Besides, it seemed to be working. Their practices were thriving, their appointment calendars full, their in-box overflowing.

So on they chased, until they ran headlong into a wall by way of a State Bar grievance or malpractice complaint or health crisis, at which time they found themselves in a place they never wanted to be – the waiting room of my law office.

What had they been chasing? 

For some, it was money or an equity partnership or a big house or a bigger house or the most expensive phone in the world. Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to make partner or have a cool crib or own a $6.7 million diamond-encrusted iPhone. But one should always heed the wisdom of Cindy Lauper (“money changes everything), the O’Jays (“it can make you do funny things”) and the Beatles (“it can’t buy you love”). 

Other lawyers who paid me a visit had been pursuing abstractions like fame, power, social status, approval, self-esteem or revenge – which can create a vicious cycle: the more you get, the more you want – while still others were dutifully doing what a parent, partner or podcast said they should be doing, rather than following the private whisperings of their own heart.

All of this brings us to a Catahoula rescue dog named Scarlet, who is a recent addition to our family. Scarlet is a generally sweet and agreeable companion. Until she sees a squirrel. Then she loses her mind and chases maniacally, with trouble sure to follow.


The Monks of New Skete Save the Day

Thank goodness for the books The Art of Raising a Puppy and How to Be Your Dog’s Best Friend, by the Monks of New Skete. These two masterworks are the canine equivalent of the Rules of Professional Conduct and, for my money, indispensable guides for parenting puppies (pro tip: they work for children, too).

The monks reminded me that Scarlet’s chasing was neither good nor bad. It was simply her instinct. The trick was to train her to chase the right things (frisbees, balls), not the wrong things (furry mammals, Buicks). This took time, practice and patience. Followed by more time, practice and patience.

But now, when we play fetch and Scarlet races to me with the prize in her mouth and pure joy in her eyes, all is right with the world.


Busyness Is Not the Same as Happiness

Far be it from me to tell anyone how to live their Law Life. I’ve got my hands full with my own. Besides, what works for me may not work for you. 

But I think Socrates was onto something when he warned of “the barrenness of a busy life.” It is easy to lose pieces of ourselves – the best pieces – in the stress and strain of daily life. It is easy to misplace our dreams.

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Bronnie Ware, who worked in palliative care and comforted people in the last days of their lives. In her book and TED Talk “The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying,” she lists the things her patients wished they could do over:

  • I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  • I wish I hadn’t worked so much.
  • I wish I had expressed my feelings more.
  • I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  • I wish I had let myself be happier.

That last one is a biggie. When it comes to being happy, often the greatest obstacle is ourselves. But take heart. There is always hope. If a floppy-eared Catahoula can stop chasing squirrels, you can too.


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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