I have always been blessed with excellent vision. In fact, I used to play a game with my kids, which was basically to see who could first read a sign in the distance. I never lost that one; but they kept trying. Of course, and as is to be expected, presbyopia finally settled in. While I still have great long distance vision, trying to read a wine list in low light has become more than a mild irritant and I’m rather frustrated about that. If that weren’t enough, well, let’s just say the kids feel like their comeuppance has finally arrived and a little ribbing comes my way now and again. That’s ok; I’ll still claim them as mine. Now, a fair question might be what does this have to do practicing law? The answer is quite a bit actually.
Let me come at this one more way. The older I get, the more I recognize that my perspective on life can occasionally get out of focus as well. These are the years where one naturally starts to ask questions. Am I making any difference at all? How long can I continue to do this? What other things do I still want to do in my life? These questions, and others like them, do come up. Add to that the state of the economy, the uncertainly in the financial markets, and the global political turmoil, and getting older isn’t the only reason my focus periodically becomes clouded. Truth be told, I suspect that my physical and emotional response to getting older and all that is going on in the world is pretty normal; but just because it’s normal doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t be concerned. After all, presbyopia isn’t the only vision problem that can come with age. If one ignores or denies the declining vision there could be a lost opportunity to prevent more serious damage.
In order to illuminate my concern and tie this all together, let me share a quick story or two.
A few years ago, I visited a very reputable law firm and asked the staff a few general questions about how firm attorneys interacted with their clients. I was surprised to learn that one of the attorneys intentionally kept all on-time clients waiting for twenty to thirty minutes. If any client was late to their appointment, he would make them wait even longer than the on-time clients. The stated reason was the attorney seemed to believe this practice would make his clients feel what he thought they should feel, which was fortunate to be given time with an attorney of his caliber. I see it differently. My perspective was this attorney approached the attorney/client relationship with the view that it was an honor for his clients to be able to work with him and I would describe such a view as being out of focus. As I see it, this attorney’s clients honored him when they placed him in their employ. This view seems clearer to me.
In another situation, two partners drafted a complex, highly detailed, and rather long contract incorporating all that both sides had agreed upon. This document was converted to a PDF format and emailed to the other side’s attorneys for review. A few days later, the PDF document was emailed back with a statement from the opposing attorneys that everything looked good and instructions about having the document ready for signing first thing Monday morning. This return email came back to the firm early evening the Friday before. Now, these two partners had evening and weekend plans that were already underway so they decided to hand the email off to an associate who had to be called back to the office. Of course this associate, who also had plans for the evening and weekend, was less than pleased about this development. The associate was instructed to review the returned document to see if any changes were made and to let the partners know if he found anything. With a desire to get back to his weekend, this quick thinking associate printed out the original PDF and the returned PDF and placed them together one page at a time over a bright light looking for places where the text itself didn’t line up. Failing to find any differences between the two sets of documents, he returned to his weekend and eventually let the partners know that everything looked good. Documents were signed first thing Monday morning. As you might guess, there were changes made to the contract that were not caught by this cursory and entirely ineffective review. Here again, three attorneys lost their focus. They made a decision to focus on what was important to them personally instead of on what they were hired to do.
Focus can be lost in all kinds of ways and for any number of reasons. My purpose here is not to pontificate on how to properly manage the attorney/client relationship or on how to age gracefully. I am simply suggesting that there is value in taking a little time now and again to consider whether your vision, your perspective, is in clear focus. Try to think about who has hired who from time to time and reflect upon the ramifications of that reality. Clearly one outcome is that being a lawyer will sometimes mean that a personal sacrifice will need to be made in order to protect the interests of the client. Finally, I also believe that clear vision and a strong sense of perspective can enable sincerity and meaningful investment in our personal and professional relationships. I would describe persons who do this well as being authentic or genuine and these are characteristics that I suspect many value. Taken together, this kind of thinking can help you keep your personal and professional life in focus and that’s good stuff if you ask me.