I once shared space with a lawyer who had more briefcases than the law should allow.
He had expensive leather models with brass hardware and cheap plastic satchels patched with duct tape. Some were so full they were about to explode. Others were almost empty.
Strictly speaking, they weren’t all briefcases. There were totes, a garment case and two sports bags – one for the gym and one for tennis. There was even a pet carrier for his vicious little dachshund named Justice.
All were lined neatly against the wall of his office. And I must confess it made me feel somewhat inadequate, seeing this perfect row of soldiers at attention. All I had was a canvas padfolio given out free at a CLE.
“Please don’t touch that,” he said once when I was in his office and had reached for one particular sack.
“But it’s leaking.”
“Oh,” he said, snatching it up and swabbing the puddle of gelatinous ooze coming from it. “That’s my lunch.”
I should mention that my colleague was very protective of his army of luggage, and more than a little prickly about anyone messing with it. He liked to think of himself as incredibly well-organized and efficient, ready to depart on a moment’s notice when duty – or the YMCA pool on Cannon Street – called.
The problem was that duty rarely called. This was back in the seedling days in Charleston, and he and I had pooled resources in a dim, dangerously out-of-code workplace on lower King Street because neither of us had any money or clients, much less a need for a top-grain buffalo hide briefcase with marine grade stitching.
How Much Is Too Much?
You might find it surprising that my obsessive-compulsive suitemate went on to become a well-respected state judge. Or not. Eccentricity can be an asset in the law, and I suppose anyone who names their dog Justice is destined for the bench.
I thought about my old friend when I read about a retirement dinner in his honor at USC Law School. It brought to mind two stories that show there’s such a thing as being too prepared for your own good.
The first was the time he rushed off to a calendar call but grabbed the wrong briefcase. When he arrived at the courtroom he found himself brandishing a toothbrush instead of a Bic pen.
The second lesson: you can spend so much time preparing that you never get around to actually doing the work. If my friend had spent half as much time marketing his practice as he did packing briefcases, he could have retired much earlier.
Then again it’s easy to think about cleaning – and even create lovely work-flow diagrams – but harder and considerably less fun to actually trudge to the closet, wheel out the vacuum and do it.
I recall one summer a lifetime ago when my son Bo invited a friend over and spent hours making unrealistic plans for how they would spend their Saturday together.
“First we’re going to build a treehouse,” he said. “Then we’re going fishing.”
And so he sketched a series of impossibly elaborate blueprints, and he got the hammer and saw and some boards from the shed, and he stayed up late the night before meticulously organizing his tackle box. Yet when his friend got there, they ended up spending the entire day exploring the cul-de-sac, looking for four-leaf clovers and rocking in the porch swing.
Luggage and Time Lost
These days I don’t even own a briefcase. I have a backpack for my laptop and other essentials. I have a zippered bag for my running gear.
I wonder if my old officemate is enjoying retirement. I wonder if he moved his battalion of briefcases into the bedroom of his home. I wonder whatever happened to Justice.
Mostly I wonder where the time went. Could it really be that long ago when I looked out my window and saw Bo and his best friend, lying on their backs in the cool of autumn, looking up at the clouds with dreams of catching the biggest fish in the world?
Jay Reeves has practiced law in North Carolina and South Carolina. He now helps lawyers create practices that soar. At Christmas, he always asked Santa for a briefcase but got socks and neckties instead. He and Bo still go fishing at Jordan Lake. Contact Jay at 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.