John G. Simon
BAMSL President, 2018-19
Managing Partner, The Simon Law Firm, P.C.
Because our clients find themselves overwhelmed, they look to attorneys to reframe complex situations in ways they can understand. When the answer is not immediately clear, we are trained to look for written guidance in the form of relevant rules, statutes and cases.
The broader practice of law involves many situations where legal research is of limited use, however. For instance, what is the best way to handle a difficult client, judge or opposing attorney? How do we motivate ourselves or others to do our best in difficult situations? Should we allocate resources to take on an unusual case? What is the best way to keep things running smoothly at the law firm? How shall we handle marketing?
At those moments, I often draw upon ideas I have accumulated over the years, most of it not original to me. For instance, I have learned about honor and integrity from movies such as "To Kill a Mockingbird." Another favorite, "Cool Hand Luke," provides powerful illustrations of unrelenting perseverance. I have been inspired by the lyrics and words of many songs and speeches including, of course, Martin Luther King, Jr. I have been fortunate to have attended many conferences and seminars to study how lawyers and other professionals skillfully handle complex and challenging situations. Over the years, my head has been filled to the brim with ideas from uncountable sources. I am sure it has been the same for you because lawyers tend to be sponges for new ideas.
But how do we put these ideas into play when we are dealing with the many concrete situations we experience at the law office? How do we make abstract motivational ideas more easily accessible?
In my own law practice, I have boiled down some of the most compelling ideas into informal sayings that I tend to repeat to myself and others in an effort to keep things on track. I am inviting you to take a look under the hood of my psyche.
Here are some of my favorite sayings:
"You are always learning."
This is my reminder to keep my eyes open for new ideas. In my experience, you learn more from your losses than your successes. This means there is always a silver lining to every disappointing outcome. I have incorporated this saying into a corollary saying: "If you want to know why you shouldn't take a bad case, take a few."
"You are always auditioning."
The legal profession can be stressful, rife with potential disagreements and misunderstandings in high-stakes litigation. At these times one might be tempted to act out of frustration, but that is when people are watching you most closely. Every difficult situation is an opportunity to shine, to skillfully move things to a better place. Every time we patiently untangle difficult situations, people notice this and they will remember. Even your opposing counsel and adverse witnesses might reach out to you in the future.
"It’s all about relationships."
The practice of law seems to be about written rules, but in my experience, it is mostly about relationships. What I most enjoy about the practice of law is cultivating good relationships, whether it be with the people at my firm, clients, co-counsel, witnesses or judges. In fact, it is the joy and excitement of engaging with interesting and inspiring people that most strongly motivates me to get to the office to start my day. More recently, I have realized there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings. Email and social media, as useful as they sometimes are, cannot substitute for the energy we feel when we interact with flesh and blood people. That is why it is so important to periodically pry ourselves out of our offices to set up a lunch or to argue even a mundane motion at court.
"Keep pushing forward."
Yes, the practice of law can be difficult, sometimes exhausting, but you have a secret weapon: your unwillingness to give up. Showing up and digging hard beat wishful thinking every time.
"It's all good."
Think of the 10 things that worry you the most today. In one year, you will not even be thinking about nine of them. The difficult challenges, as frustrating as they seem, are what make your practice rewarding in the long run. If we have a disappointing trial result, I am likely to say: "The next best thing to winning a case is trying it and losing it. Wrap it up and start working on the next one." It is my firm conviction that we need to embrace the good and what seems like the bad. This mindfulness is all part of the honor and opportunity we have been given to provide legal services to those in need.
I hope this article resonates with you. Maybe it will remind you of sayings that you repeat to yourself to keep you on track. If so, feel free to email them to me. I would like to include them in a future article so that the BAMSL community can benefit for your own words of wisdom.
This article also appeared in the August 2018 issue of the St. Louis Lawyer magazine.