The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

On Being Perfect(ly) Insane

When I was just a wee lad, my father instilled in me the need to be perfect. If I scored 98% on an exam, his only comment was “What happened to the other two marks?”

On to university and law school I went, avoiding sports and social pursuits to excel in my studies, striving to be perfect.  It sort of worked too if you judge everything by academic marks.

I even passed on everything that I had learned to my children, who luckily for them did not buy into it all.

With that emotionally healthy upbringing, I approached the practice of law knowing that the way to succeed was to do everything perfectly. Proof-read everything many, many times.  Catch every typo. Stay current with the law. Meet every deadline.  Bring in clients.  Get your bills out on time.  Collect your receivables. Supervise the clerks and the juniors. Do it all and do it all perfectly or get sick trying.

I got sick trying.

I met other lawyers who did not try so hard to be perfect.  In the beginning I looked down on them because obviously they just did not understand what was important.  By the end, I envied them because they were actually healthy and happy.  Some of them were pretty good lawyers, too. Just not perfect.

I think that I eventually became a pretty good lawyer, especially after I learned the truth of that oft quoted platitude that ‘perfect is the enemy of good.’

At some point I learned that it was often more important to have a strategy than to have no strategy because you were still looking for a perfect strategy.  I also learned that the time to decide something is usually when you have 90% of all of the information that might be helpful to make the decision, because if you keep waiting for the last 10% of the information, the decision will never get made.

I was happy to discover that my so-called ‘social style’ was an ‘analytic driver’ because it meant that although I cared about the details, I also cared about getting things done.  There were many times when I had to suppress my analytic tendencies in order to move things forward.

And eventually I learned that try as I may, I could never be so happy go lucky that I could ignore the details to the extent required to be relaxed and happy. So I retired.  

My wife says that I am still not relaxed, but I know that is temporary. As soon as I get my retirement going perfectly, everything will be fine.

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