ON PROFESSIONALISM[Posted November 14, 2009] On Wednesday, November 11, I had the good fortune to appear at the Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law in Raleigh to deliver a lecture in the school’s series of presentations on professionalism. I came away enormously impressed, not just with the brand-new facility (the school moved to Raleigh from Buies Creek just three months ago), but with the faculty, administration, and most of all the students. I received an extraordinarily gracious welcome from everyone there, and am happy to have made so many new friends in Raleigh.
Here is a rough transcription of my speech, edited somewhat because of the written format I have to use here. It’s much, much longer than the kind of speeches I’m accustomed to giving, but since I didn’t see a red light come on at the 15-minute mark, I just kept going. (Who knew that an appellate lawyer could talk for this long?) The audience was the school’s entire class of first-year students. The topic isn’t appellate practice, but the message is so important to me that I will post it here. My long-time readers, particularly those with good memories, will recognize a few passages from my previous writings here, but most of the content is new to this web site.
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It was an August 25, and it was destined to be one of the most confusing days of my life. I had arrived at law school the previous day and unpacked my things, and now I sat in an orientation session – probably much like the one you experienced a couple of months ago. My college degree was eight days old; the ink on the dean’s signature was barely dry.
This orientation wasn’t conducted by the law faculty, who presumably would tell us what we were supposed to think about law school; it was sensibly conducted by upper-class students, who could tell us what we could really expect. One of the things I heard that day has stuck with me through all these years:
“Law school is going to change your brain,” they told me. “For example, in a few weeks, you’ll go home to be with your family – perhaps Thanksgiving break – and you’ll be sitting in your familiar living room, and on the coffee table there will be a form of some kind. At the top of the form, there will be a blank with the word Name. And you’ll look at that and think to yourself, Gee, I wonder what they mean by that?”
People who have been through law school know that this simple instruction isn’t as straightforward as it seems. Is it last-name-first? What about a middle initial; do they want that, too? What about us really-cool people, who primarily use our middle names? Can I write, L. Steven Emmert, or will they force me to use my first name and middle initial?
Now, you were all normal people before you came to law school; why would you want to go modifying a perfectly healthy brain like that? Indeed, one of the topics we’ll discuss in a while is that very question – Why go to law school in the first place?
You may know that you don’t have to go to law school in order to be a lawyer. In many states, including Virginia, where I practice, you can become a lawyer the old-fashioned way: You apprentice yourself to a practicing lawyer for a few years, much the way people became apprentice blacksmiths and shipwrights. That method gave the new lawyer a great deal of practical knowledge about how to practice law – the kind of knowledge you can’t get here in law school.
But there was a price to be paid for this kind of preparation for a career in law. Justice Robert Jackson wrote about that, all the way back in 1950, in an article in the Stanford Law Review. In his view, “If the weakness of the apprentice system was to produce advocates without scholarship, the weakness of the law school system is to turn out scholars with no skill at advocacy.”
By the way, based on what I’ve seen in the less-than-24 hours I’ve been here, it’s clear to me that someone in your administration has read Justice Jackson’s comments, and has taken them to heart. You have an admirable set of programs here designed to teach the art of advocacy, and I commend the faculty for going to such lengths to teach that necessary skill.
But it’s unquestionably true that they don’t teach you in law school how to be a lawyer. The famous phrasing is that they teach you how to think like a lawyer, and I agree that that’s primarily what goes on in places like this. Learning how to be a lawyer is something that will take you a number of years after you leave here.
I believe that there are three primary components of the practice of law. The first, and the one most people think of, is technical proficiency – things like knowing how to draft a contract, how to examine a witness, and how to probate a will. Law schools are admirably suited to teaching this component, although you’ll learn a great deal more in your first few years of practice.
The second component is ethics, which, boiled-down, is how to avoid having the State Bar take away your license to practice. Again, law schools can teach you that, although virtually every state requires continuing legal education every year for lawyers in ethics. This issue is so important that even though a lawyer has finished law school and passed the bar, he still needs to get a refresher course in ethics every year.
The third component is professionalism, and while law school can introduce you to this concept, there simply is no substitute for active practice in teaching you how to function as a member of the bar. There are, I will readily acknowledge, elements of business management interwoven into each of these three categories.
If you master the first two of these elements, you can maintain a law practice. If you have all three, you can thrive.
I invite you to consider the wisdom of my favorite American legal scholar of all time: Mark Twain. What, you didn’t think of Twain as a legal scholar? Well, perhaps you just haven’t been thinking in the right context. For example, he wrote memorably about evidence and impeachment of witnesses when he said, “There are lies, damned lies, and statistics.” He covered the field of products liability law with, “It’s impossible to make anything foolproof, because fools are so damned ingenious.” (That one’s funny on about three different levels.)
He wrote a novel in which the title character was a lawyer – The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson. Wilson was a young lawyer who acquired this pejorative nickname by an unfortunately timed comment, but he went on to win an important case with the then-new science of fingerprinting, a process that’s well-known in police circles even today.
Twain wrote about professionalism, too. In his view, “You should always do the right thing. This will gratify some people, and astonish the rest.”
I recognize that there are philosophical reasons to display professionalism – virtue really is its own reward – but my taking that approach would be too easy. Besides, I’m confident that the previous speakers in this lecture series have already given you that perspective, so if I were to talk to you for another hour about the altruistic reasons, you’d be justified in spending the time checking your e-mail instead of paying attention to me.
I will therefore take on a tougher job. I want to show you the mercenary reason to be a professional. I’m going to show you how you can win more cases, make more money, and crush your enemies, by being nice to them. Actually, that last part might be hard, because if you conduct yourself as I recommend, you’ll have a hard time finding any enemies. But still, I propose to prove to you that it can be profitable to be a nice guy. Perhaps you think I can’t do that.
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Let’s start by describing professionalism. You may think of ethics and professionalism as being equivalent, but I don’t think they are. Ethics involves a number of specific rules of conduct – don’t miss deadlines; preserve the client’s confidences and secrets; and for God’s sake, keep your hands off the trust funds. Those are all excellent, and necessary, rules. But all they really do is set a professional minimum; as I alluded to before, this is what you have to do in order to avoid having the State Bar take away your license to practice. If you spend your days just living up to life’s minimum requirements, you aren’t going to achieve much.
Professionalism isn’t a floor; it’s the sky – a limitless horizon. Professionalism, in my view, is founded upon civility, and civility, in turn, is nothing more than applied kindness.
No, I’m not kidding. For many years, I have carried in my pocket a rock, upon which was engraved the word kindness. Because of the length of time I’ve carried it, the rock is now perfectly smooth; the engraving has worn completely off. I still carry it with me every day, because even though the writing is gone, the rock itself can still remind me of its former message, one of the two most important characteristics for humans in our society. Integrity, by the way, is the other.
It’s overwhelmingly likely that, when you think of practicing law, the concept of kindness isn’t in the picture. That’s because we get our primary impression of lawyers from TV and movies, and kindness isn’t in the script. Instead, you usually see scenes like these:
- A withering cross-examination, in which an aggressive lawyer presses the witness on and on, until she dissolves into tears, finally confessing to exactly what he’s trying to get out of her. At that point, as the witness sits weeping, the lawyer returns to his counsel table with a smug smile and says, “I have no further questions, your honor.”
- Combative contract negotiations, in which one lawyer berates the other side, eventually forcing the opponent to cave in and accede to the lawyer’s demands for a one-sided deal.
Violent arguments, most often wars of words, but sometimes physical violence, in the course of depositions or even courtroom proceedings.
- In the closing scene of the episode or the movie, the Good Guy always emerges triumphant from the courthouse. You’ll see the same smug smile, and usually a few sarcastic words about the “losers” on the other side. Fade to black.You’ve all seen each of these scenes more than once. Well, that’s the way law is practiced here in America, right? That’s the image the public has of what goes on in court, and perhaps you figured that this would be the kind of environment you’ll find yourself in once you graduate. It’s a tough place, not at all the environment for gentle people.
Ah, but this is fiction.
Tom Clancy once remarked that truth really is stranger than fiction, because fiction has to make sense. In this case, though, Mr. Clancy may have gotten it backward. Let’s consider the realities of some of these situations:
- Remember the withering cross-examination? Far more often than the “Perry Mason moment,” in which the witness crumbles under the relentless attack, a badgering cross is more likely to lead to the witness’s metaphorically clamming up, refusing to agree with anything the lawyer suggests, and giving him nothing for his troubles. If the lawyer redoubles his accusations and innuendoes, the witness just gets more defiant. Eventually the jury sees the brutality of the lawyer’s approach, and it starts siding with the witness, since no one deserves to be treated like that. Now the lawyer is in real trouble: He isn’t getting any damaging information, and the jury hates him. He’s on his way to an adverse verdict. Eventually he gives up and sits down, having alienated everyone in the courtroom.
- Combative negotiations almost always break down in real life. Remember, the object of the negotiation is to reach an agreement, to broker a deal in which the parties can fashion a contract so both sides can make money. When one lawyer tries to bully his way into getting the better of the deal, you can easily imagine the opposing client or lawyer or both saying, “I don’t need this.” They then pack up their briefcases and leave. Now the aggressive lawyer’s client is angry. “You said they’d cave, and we could get a sweet deal! I need this contract; we need to get them back in here.” But by then, the other side is already on the road; the offended client is calling another prospective business partner, and the offended lawyer is headed to his office, maybe to draft a lawsuit over the broken transaction. Meanwhile, the aggressive lawyer shrugs, tells his client he’s sorry that the approach didn’t work, and then hands the client a bill for his time in the case.
- Those first two examples result in the loss of a single case or contract. With violent arguments, the results are more lasting, because word gets around. Let’s start with the courts: The judges will eventually know that the aggressive lawyer is willing to make his confrontations personal, and take them to an unacceptable level. And it doesn’t stop with just the judge in the courtroom at the time. What, you think judges don’t talk to one another? Of course they do. “I had John Jones in my courtroom yesterday, and he was so obnoxious, I couldn’t believe it. He’s lucky I didn’t hold him in contempt. Has he ever done anything like that in your courtroom?” “Sure; he does that all the time. Why, I remember when he . . .” These judges will soon start to rule against the lawyer, perhaps subliminally, and maybe overtly, on objections and motions. And the bar will know about it, too; lawyers are just as quick to spread the word within their ranks of unprofessional behavior as are judges. No one will want to deal with him. Perhaps the aggressive lawyer could milk this by embarking on a series of “I’m a tough-guy lawyer” TV ads, and some gullible clients will fall for that. But it won’t help him actually win any cases.
- How about the closing scene outside the courthouse, with the smug celebration? The TV shows and movies never show you the rest of the story. They don’t show you the hurt feeling of the losing party, who did nothing to justify being treated that way. They don’t show you the grim resolve of the opposing attorney, who vows to himself, “I’m never going to let that jerk beat me again.” And they don’t show you the next case, in which the two lawyers have to deal with each other again. By now, the aggressive lawyer has burned a bridge, and he’ll never get any cooperation from this opponent. This, in truth, is the most damaging price of this approach.
Let’s try it again, from the perspective of the professional. Remember, I’m constraining myself to give you the mercenary reasons for acting this way, so I’ll limit this to the ways in which you can make more money by acting professionally.
- We’ll start with depositions. The purpose of depositions is to get information from the witness, and in the case of a party-opponent, maybe to get an admission or two. A witness is much more likely to open up to pleasant, respectful questioning, and far less likely to clam up and give the questioner nothing. Aggression raises a witness’s defenses (natural or coached), while politeness can turn them aside.
- In contract negotiations, parties who can approach the problem calmly and pleasantly are far more likely to reach an agreement than are angry, defensive parties. The client wants a deal – he needs to settle on a contract – so the professional lawyer creates an environment in which agreement is much more likely to occur. If the parties reach an agreement, everyone makes money, and the lawyer’s client will be much happier about paying the lawyer’s bill.
- With courtroom demeanor, I’ll suggest this question to you: Who in the courtroom do you want to have rooting for you? Obviously the jury is your #1 objective here, and the judge is probably 1A. If the judge is impressed with you, she will be just as likely to talk to her colleagues as the judge who’s offended. “I had Jane Jones in my courtroom today. What a pleasure! She was prepared, polite, and professional . . .”
- You might think that the jury can’t do anything for you after the verdict. Usually, that’s true, but sometimes, it’s not. The following phone call is by no means unheard of: “Ms. Jones, my name is Richard Johnson. I was a juror in a case you tried a couple of months ago. I was very impressed with the way you handled yourself in that case, and now I need a lawyer and I’d like to retain you.”
- But for the professional lawyer, it doesn’t end there. How about the bailiff? Think about it: The bailiff is the jury’s closest contact in the case. He’s there every day of trial to answer to their needs. When they knock on the door, he’s the one who answers and asks what he can do for them. He’s almost always a friendly contact, and jurors develop a bond with him. True, they take their directives from the judge; but he’s sitting up on an elevated bench like a feudal lord; the bailiff, in contrast, is practically one of them. If you always treat the bailiff with professional courtesy, including a smile and a kind word, do you think the jurors will notice that he likes you? Of course they will, and that makes them more likely to side with you emotionally.
- Let’s keep going: How about the court reporter? Most lawyers don’t think anything at all about reporters except how quickly they can get the transcript. The professional lawyer treats the reporter as a fellow-professional. He asks her during breaks if she needs the spelling of any names or unusual words in the case. He slows down and makes sure she can record what he says accurately. (Slowing down one’s speech for important passages is actually more persuasive. Try it and see.) He gives her copies of cases from which long quotations may be read. Again, the jury will pick up on the fact that the reporter obviously likes and respects you.
- Next is the courtroom clerk, who has possibly the worst job in the room. All he’s supposed to do is exactly what the judge orders him to do. He often has no meaningful role in the formal part of the proceedings. If the judge and jury see you treating the clerk with courtesy and respect, they’ll make a mental note of that, and again, your stock will rise with those essential decisionmakers.
- Believe it or not, there’s one more person in the room who you’ll want to be rooting for you – sort of. It’s your opponent. Now, he’s not really going to be rooting for you to win the case; he wants to do that himself. But think beyond the trial at hand, and imagine receiving this phone call a few weeks after the trial: “Jane? It’s John Smith. Listen, I have a prospective client that I can’t take because of a conflict with one of the other lawyers in my firm. I really enjoyed the experience of trying the Williams case against you last month, and I was wondering whether I could refer the new client to you.”
In each of these situations, the lawyer who practices professionalism is more likely to win the case, rise in public esteem, and get more clients and more money. See what I mean? The effect is more profound when you’re acting professionally and your opponent is playing the part of the jerk. No one roots for a bully; in that situation, if you handle yourself professionally, everyone there will be rooting for you.
I spoke some time ago about the reasons why you decided to come to law school. There are several primary ones, in addition to numerous individual ones. In many instances, it’s an interest in a particular field or type of practice – perhaps you wanted to represent battered women, or practice international law. Many people with an interest in law enforcement go to law school with the specific intention of becoming prosecutors. Many people come to law school because of the perception that it provides income security, if not outright wealth.
There are other broad categories, of course. You in this generation might be surprised at one of them: The prestige of the legal community. Decades ago, the public perceived lawyers in a very different light. The attorney was viewed as one of the pillars of the community, a person of good judgment who could always be counted upon for sound, practical advice. He was a community leader, and many people went to law school to capture that public respect.
Obviously, things have changed just a tad. In my opinion, the point at which the public image of lawyers started to deteriorate was when the US Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment prohibited a ban on lawyer advertising. The early lawyer ads were fairly demure, in retrospect; but those ads have since given way to the nauseating “Cash-cash-cash!” ads that infect the airwaves nowadays. Unfortunately, those ads are apparently effective to bring in a certain kind of clientele – if they didn’t work, then Darwinian factors would have driven them off the airwaves by now. But I digress.
Some people – and I include myself in this category – went to law school because of their family’s expectations. Now, personally, I would have preferred to become a baseball player. But a lack of talent got in the way of that aspiration, so I had to settle for an alternate career.
No matter what your reason, your decision to come to law school is part of your project in shaping your life, and your character. In doing that, you have two options. The first, the passive option, is to take whatever life dishes up for you. You make a few basic decisions and then follow the course that presents itself. You’ll accept the cases that come in the door, and shape your law practice accordingly. It’s a bit like being on a raft on a river. You’ll flow with the current, and you’ll eventually get somewhere – maybe even somewhere you like – but you don’t have any control over the journey.
The second option is proactive. You’ll have to make a number of decisions about how you want the course of your life to run. You’ll set a number of specific long-term goals for yourself, and identify the steps you’ll need to take in order to achieve those goals. That’s like strapping a rudder and an engine on your raft; now you can control where you go, and you can get there a lot faster.
In either event, you will decide whether you will incorporate professionalism into your career and your life. Professionalism is a function of your character – indeed, it’s a projection of your character. You can’t fake it; you have to live it. If you want a quick assessment of your character, I invite you to consider how you would react in the following two situations.
First, you go to a fast-food restaurant and order lunch at the register. You give the clerk a ten-dollar bill, but in her haste, she mistakenly gives you change for a twenty. Now you’ve got more money than you started with, and you’ve got lunch. You can pocket the money – no one will ever know – and think to yourself, This is a really inexpensive lunch. Or you can hand the extra ten dollars back, saying to the clerk, “I think you gave me too much change back; here.” What do you do?
Here’s another example, one that I actually know about. You have a friend who works on a cruise ship. He tells you that the cruise line has a special rate for employees’ family members – it’s 75% off the usual price – and he asks if you and your husband want to take advantage of it. You’ve always wanted to go on a cruise, but you’ve never been on one, primarily because of the cost. “All we have to do is tell them that you’re my sister and brother-in-law. They don’t ask for proof or anything.” Here’s a golden opportunity to do something you’ve always wanted, at a very affordable price. All you have to do is lie . . .
Well, you can see where that road leads.
A person’s actions both define and are defined by his or her character. I invite you to consider a few examples. You know about Martin Luther, who was condemned as a heretic at the Diet of Worms for his stand against the selling of indulgences. He is widely quoted on that occasion as saying, “Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise. God help me; amen.” But his character was revealed even before that famous speech, when he made the decision to answer the summons to come to Worms in the first place. His friends had urged him not to attend, telling him that the safe-conduct he was offered was a sham, as it had been a century earlier for another man in similar circumstances; that man had been executed. But Luther displayed the courage of his convictions when he replied, “I would go to Worms if there were as many devils there as there are tiles on the rooftops.”
Yesterday marked the anniversary of two other instances of character. One hundred thirty-eight years ago yesterday, November 10, 1871, a man reached a village on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in eastern Africa, took off his hat, and asked the most famous question of the Nineteenth Century: “Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” Henry Stanley had traveled all the way from the coast without maps and had found the Scottish missionary, in an extraordinary display of determination. Stanley was by no means a paragon of virtue – he and the truth were sometimes only distant acquaintances – but his resolve to succeed is perhaps the greatest I have ever read about. The hallmark of his character was his perseverance, one of the marks of a true professional.
More recently, on the evening of November 10, 1975, the cargo ship Arthur M. Anderson fought one of the worst Lake Superior storms her captain, Bernie Cooper, had ever seen. The ship endured waves of more than 30 feet – remember, this is on a lake – before finally entering the safety of shallower, protected waters in Whitefish Bay, adjacent to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. The captain and crew were relieved just to have survived this terrible storm. But some time after eight o’clock, the Coast Guard got on the radio to the Anderson and asked her to go back out onto the lake. You see, there had been no contact in some time from the SS Edmund Fitzgerald, and there were no Coast Guard ships nearby that were big enough to endure those waves.
Captain Cooper didn’t relish the idea of endangering his ship and his crew. But he did the professional thing: He turned his ship about and ventured back into the violent waters of Lake Superior to see what he could do for the Fitzgerald. Professional lakers don’t abandon one another in times like these.
Of course, the search turned up no trace of the Fitzgerald, which by then had already sunk. It would be found a few days later at the bottom of the lake. But I invite you to consider the enormous courage that it took for Captain Cooper just to make this decision.
Now, imagine the effect in a courtroom when a lawyer rises to speak, and everyone knows that he’s a thorough professional – a man of character. There’s an expectation that he’s going to say something important, and that it will be well-considered. Do you see the advantage that this guy has, even before he opens his mouth?
That advantage is ethos, one of the three means of persuasion identified by Aristotle in his Rhetoric. If you’ve studied that work, you know that the other two are pathos and logos. Pathos is an emotional appeal; logos is based on pure logic; and ethos relies on the personal credibility of the speaker. Now, upon thinking about those, you might believe that ethos is the red-headed stepchild of the three, given the enormous power of the other two. If you felt that, you’d be disagreeing with Aristotle himself, who felt that ethos was the most powerful form of persuasion available.
Let me illustrate what he means by using contemporary examples. For pathos, I invite you to consider Jesse Jackson. Whether you love Jesse or hate him, you must admit that he has an extraordinary ability to arouse a passionate response. He is a master of pathos, and a remarkably-talented speaker.
For logos, think of the Star Trek character Mr. Spock, a sublimely logical persona. How can you argue with Spock’s impeccable logic?
Ethos is more difficult to personify these days, but we had a good one a few years back; you may have read his obituary earlier this year. He’s Walter Cronkite, the anchor of The CBS Evening News for a generation. Each evening, he ended his broadcast with the phrase, “And that’s the way it is, Tuesday, November 10th”; and when he said that, everybody believed him. Across America, we all felt the same thing: Uncle Walter wouldn’t lie to me.
Do you see how enormously powerful that advantage is? If you’re trying to persuade someone, at any level – a panel of an appellate court; a judge; a jury; even a civic league – and the listener believes that you’re telling the truth, then you’ve already won.
So, how do you build ethos? It’s like building a house. You don’t plop a fully constructed house down; you build it one brick at a time. In the same way, credibility is built one kept promise at a time; one met deadline at a time; one rules-compliant brief and one fully-prepared argument. You can’t do it all at once, but if you pursue it faithfully, imagine the reputation you can craft for yourself.
It’s actually possible to “groove” your character, so that acting that way becomes second nature for you. Think of this situation: Let’s say that you live in Apex, or Cary – somewhere outside town, so you have a commute into school. As you’re on your way, you change the radio station; maybe you get a cell phone call from your spouse; and you read a billboard announcing an upcoming concert, and think to yourself that it might be fun to go to that. My question for you is, Who’s driving the car? Your mind is everywhere but on the road; you haven’t been thinking about the mechanics of driving at all.
The answer, of course, is that you have grooved the process of driving. The first time you drove, you thought a great deal about the gearshift and the accelerator and the steering wheel; but by this point, you can do it without thinking.
Golf is another example of that. If you play, you’ve been told all sorts of things about how to shape your swing. Keep your head still. Shift your weight back in the backswing; take the club back slowly and delay breaking your wrists. Try for a smooth transition into the forward swing, and finish with your hands high. When Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods go through the process of hitting the ball, what do you think they’re thinking about?
Nothing! They do everything they can to blank out their conscious mind, so they can swing the way they have trained themselves. They have grooved their swings, so they can do it again and again without thinking about it. It’s just like the way you drive a car.
You can do the same thing with your character, with the goal that acting with integrity is simply what comes naturally to you. At that point, you will be a professional.
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Alan Dershowitz, in his short book, Letters to a Young Lawyer, advises, “Don’t make a lot of money.” What I believe he means is that you shouldn’t need a lot of money. Trust me; there’s nothing wrong with making a lot of money. But he makes a good point about the lawyer who creates a lifestyle for himself that makes him a slave to dollars. Perhaps he has a very expensive mortgage, and a taste for expensive cars and exotic travel. Perhaps, like me, he has a 15-year-old daughter who knows how to manipulate Daddy; those are ruinous financially. Dershowitz’s point is that such a lawyer might well be unable to accept a long-desired judgeship, or unable to take a pro bono case in an area he cares about deeply, because he needs the high income stream that he has produced from his too-successful practice.
In that vein, I invite you to consider these words by Khalil Gibran, from The Prophet, on much the same subject:
“What have you in these houses? And what is it you guard with fastened doors? Have you peace? . . . Have you remembrances? Have you beauty, that leads the heart from things fashioned of wood and stone to the holy mountain? Tell me, have you these in your houses?
“Or have you only comfort, and the lust for comfort, that stealthy thing that enters the house a guest, and then becomes a host, and then a master?
“Ay, and then it becomes a tamer, and with hook and scourge makes puppets of your larger desires. Though its hands are silken, its heart is of iron. It lulls you to sleep only to stand by your bed and jeer at the dignity of the flesh. It makes mockery of your sound senses, and lays them in thistledown like fragile vessels.
“Verily the lust for comfort murders the passion of the soul, and then walks grinning in the funeral.”
How’d you like to have a funeral like that?
Instead, let’s go back to Twain. He once defined a classic as “a book that everyone wants to have read, but no one actually wants to read.” In this light, please consider the story of two Roman generals, both from the First Century BCE, who found themselves at similar crossroads.
Lucius Licinius Lucullus was rich. I mean he was stinking-rich; Bill-Gates-rich. He got rich the old-fashioned, honorable Roman way: By pillaging the towns and the countryside of the province he governed as proconsul. He eventually amassed enough wealth that he could do anything he wanted to do.
He decided to retire to a life of luxury, and he did it right. He built mansions and villas; he entertained lavishly. If you were invited to a party at Lucullus’s, you were in for a treat of wonderful food and wine, and lavish entertainment. When he died, he willed his gardens to the Roman people to use as a park.
Another general, at approximately the same time, also found himself rich, also from the looting-and-pillaging trade from his tenure as a provincial governor. He, too, came to the same point of decision, where he could retire in luxury and enjoy the remainder of his days in resplendent comfort.
But unlike Lucullus, Gaius Julius Caesar elected to continue his service of the state. He continued to lead formidable Roman armies into battle, expanding the empire and making Rome itself both safer from invasion and much wealthier. Instead of spending his nights in countryside villas, he bivouacked in the field with his men, and endured the hardships of life as a soldier.
It’s probable that none of you recognized Lucullus’s name when I first mentioned it a moment ago; he is basically a footnote in history now. In contrast, Caesar turned down a life of luxury and became one of the most celebrated men ever to walk the earth. He chose to live a classic life, to borrow Twain’s phrase – a life no one would want to actually lead, but one we would all want to have led.
You get to decide what kind of lawyer you will be, and what kind of life you will lead. Make it a classic. Go gratify some people, and astonish the rest.