The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

What is the Best Use of My Time Right Now?

Some years ago my firm had a lawyer’s retreat. We invited a speaker who gave a philosophical presentation about being mindful about how you use your time. His theme was that you have to constantly ask yourself, “what is the best use of my time right now?”

I suppose that the partners thought that the right answer would always be “billing hours” or perhaps “marketing for new clients.” Maybe even “collecting my receivables.”

Some of the Associates interpreted the question differently. I heard one Associate say, “moving in-house,” and another said, “spending more time with my family.”

All in all, although it was not one of our more successful efforts at indoctrinating the young folks, I do believe that the presenter was correct. When it comes to our working lives, those of us who are privileged enough to have ‘careers’ instead of ‘jobs’ should, from time to time, pause to ask ourselves whether we are doing what brings us personal satisfaction. Are we making the best use of our time right now?

I first had the opportunity to think about this when I articled. Of course, I missed the importance of the lesson at the time.

I articled for the now defunct firm of Goodman & Carr. Wolfe Goodman was one of the name partners, and a leading tax authority in Canada. 

A significant part of my tax rotation consisted of sitting in on meetings with Mr. Goodman. Since I had not grown up in a wealthy family and was only twenty-four years old at the time, I can probably be forgiven for still having had some socialist leanings.  After all, the common saying is that if you are not a socialist at age twenty you have no heart (and if you are a socialist at age thirty you have no brain.)

It did not take long for Mr. Goodman to discern that I was having trouble grasping the social utility of what he did, which to my mind consisted of helping rich people stay rich and get richer by avoiding taxes that they should have been happy to pay for the benefit of the less fortunate.

Of course my much older self fully understands it, does not consider business owners to be ‘rich,’ appreciates anyone who can help business owners, professionals, and especially retirees, reduce their taxes, and wonders how I could ever have been so daft.

Mr. Goodman patiently explained to me that “rich people have problems too.”  It was apparent to me that his passion was helping them solve those problems. He enjoyed what he was doing and was making the best use of his time.

I could not understand Mr. Goodman’s passion at the time. That is okay. I don’t have to get it, just as I do not have to understand how some lawyers enjoy the mind-numbing boredom of commercial leasing, financing, or a host of other specialties which do not hold much meaning for me. Let’s not even get started on accountants.

How we spend our time is a personal decision.  We should all think about it a bit more than we do.

 This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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