People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode Seven: The Super Star

Let me tell you about a real person, whose real name is not Emily.

Emily is a superstar. She does it all and has been doing it all for an awfully long time.

She brings in clients. Lots and lots of clients.

She does the work. Many, many billable hours.

She dockets her time. Every single scrap of it.

She bills her files. On time, month after month.

She collects her fees. Just about all of them.

She wins awards. More than one.

She makes time for her partners and associates whenever they come asking for help.

She supervises, trains and mentors her associates.

She is honest. She is ethical.

Emily has been the managing partner of her firm. She has been the head of her department.

She gives practical advice. She is creative. She is recognized as a leading lawyer in the country in her specialty.

Emily never issued an account that she did not first study in detail to confirm that it was fair to the client.

For years Emily reviewed and approved every account issued by all of her associates to confirm that the clients were being billed fairly. Every single time.

Emily has never raised her voice at an associate or a staff member. She has never yelled at a partners meeting. Not even at the really annoying partners.

She has told a young mother struggling to balance a childcare issue with a looming client deadline to go home and take care of her child, and that she would be sure that the client responsibilities were handled.

Emily is a super star in the legal profession. Everyone knows it. Other firms routinely headhunt her associates because everyone knows that ‘trained by Emily’ is a stamp of approval. Judges sign orders presented by her associates without reading them in too much detail because they have confidence that if they came from Emily’s office they must be in order.

Emily is also a tragic hero in the Shakespearean meaning of the word. I spent way too much time practicing law and too little time studying literature, so forgive me if I get this wrong, but I believe that a tragic hero means a potentially great character with a tragic flaw.

Emily’s tragic flaw is that she is a perfectionist. I would hardly describe her as calm and relaxed. I have heard her trying to calm herself down by repeating the mantra “this too shall pass” more times than I can remember.

I have seen Emily work to the point that she became sick and had to take several months off of work to recover, and then come back and have the same thing happen a few years later.

Emily has been married to the same man for a very long time. Great guy, but not one of those guys who took care of everything on the home front to free Emily up to devote all of her attention to practicing law. Being a perfectionist, Emily did more than her fair share at home as well.

I am sure that there must be lawyers who have been as successful in the legal profession as Emily, remained calm and happy, devoted a great deal of time to their home life and managed to maintain their physical and mental health, while not failing in their marriage or their relationships with their children. I just never met any of them.

It seems to me that most of the time, something has to give. The myth that one can and should have it all is a nice fairy tale. When you add to that the ego and competitive nature of many lawyers, it is a recipe for disaster. Why we perpetuate this fairy tale in the legal profession is beyond me. Lawyers are supposed to be smart people. All evidence to the contrary notwithstanding.

People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode Six: Tragically, Terminally, Toxic

I met Paul at my very first job as a lawyer. Paul was a commercial real estate lawyer. He was hard-working and extremely capable.  Paul thought quite a bit of himself and other people who he considered to be intelligent and diligent. However, Paul did not suffer fools gladly.

People I Met Practicing Law

People I met Practicing Law Episode Five: The Good Lawyer

I was once hired by a dentist to help him disassociate from his partner. I will refer to my client as the “Good Dentist” and to his partner as the “Dentist from Hell.”

People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode Four: The Jerks

Quite a few years ago, I really ticked off a lawyer at one of the major firms. 

It was the early 1990’s, someone had called a recession, and everyone had shown up.  This big firm lawyer was acting for a bank trying to put the squeeze on a delinquent debtor.  My client was the delinquent debtor.  The bank had screwed up.  They had given him 30 days notice to repay his operating line and bounced cheques that were within the credit limit the very same day that the notice was given.  That is a no-no.   

People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode Three: Zero Trust

Eleanor practiced family law.  She was pretty smart, and she knew all of the technical stuff cold.  What Eleanor was not that good at was the part about dealing with clients.  Especially vulnerable clients.  Such as people going through a separation or a divorce.

People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode Two: Ethically Challenged

Patricia was a good lawyer.  She knew her law.  She worked hard.  She produced billings. She brought in clients.

We all have character flaws.  Even me.  However, Patricia had more than most of us. She was uber competitive.  She liked to win.  She hated to lose.  Patricia and others saw these attributes as positives. If she had been able to keep them under control, they might indeed have been assets.  She was not, so they were not.  

People I Met Practicing Law

People I Met Practicing Law Episode One: Tough Love

They say that the Americans are tougher than we are when it comes to business.  I think that it is probably true. 

I met John in the early 90’s, shortly after he had arrived in Toronto to set up a Canadian branch of his large Buffalo law firm.  John was a very senior lawyer by then and he was the managing partner of the Toronto branch office of his firm, and in charge of the firm’s cross-border practice.