Thursday, February 2, 2012

on kindness.

a lot of people see movies or television shows about attorneys and assume that we're a group of angry bulldogs who get off on starting arguments with people and who are driven by an all-consuming need to be right. all. the. time. and i can't say that some in our profession don't fall victim to this lawyer stereotype. what i can say is that i am lucky to practice in a firm with good and honorable attorneys who believe in the nobility of this profession and who are genuinely committed to ethically serving their clients and the practice. i feel privileged that i can say this so easily because that's the kind of lawyer i strive to be. that's the kind of lawyer i hope people think of me as being.

when i was younger, i did like to argue a lot. about anything. about everything. mostly with my dad or my siblings, but i enjoyed a good political debate as much as anyone who enjoys a good political debate, and i really thought it was important to have these sessions/conversations/arguments often. the older i've gotten, the more i've realized how very naive it is to assume that with one conversation you're going to change someone's deeply held beliefs about anything. when i was sworn in to the practice of law in iowa and began getting down to the business of lawyering, i realized that one of the most important skills a good attorney has is knowing when not to argue. when to lay your cards on the table. when to compromise. when to have the "come to jesus" talk with your client. because the skill of knowing when not to argue serves your client's best interests and ultimately, that is my job. doing the best work i can for my client. zealously representing their interests. in knowing when not to argue, i serve my client, my firm, my colleagues, my reputation and the profession.

yesterday, i had a phone conversation with an individual on behalf of a client. and i got ahead of myself and committed the cardinal sin of an attorney. i took something that was said in the middle of settlement negotiations personally, and i reacted to it. i was rude. i ended the phone conversation on a bad note, and it bothered me.

i laid in bed last night thinking about the way the conversation had gone. it was eating at me. i don't like to be like that. i don't want to be forceful and mean and ignorant to any viewpoint other than my own. that doesn't serve my client's best interests, nor does it serve my own interest in building a good reputation and being the best attorney i can be.

so after a restless night of sleep, i dialed the person i spoke with yesterday when i got into my office this morning. he answered the phone on the first ring, and i told him who i was. and i said, "listen, i wanted to talk to you about our conversation yesterday. i just wanted you to know that i was thinking about the way it went and i wanted to apologize. i felt like i was rude and i didn't explain my position clearly, and i don't want to interact that way. i'm sorry." he didn't say anything for a minute, then cleared his throat and said, "i really didn't think you were rude, but this is probably the nicest phone call i've ever gotten first thing in the morning." we proceeded to have a very cordial and productive conversation, and he made my client a better offer than he had previously... which was right in the range we hoped. more importantly, i feel better about the way the situation was handled.

because while law & order episodes showing that spunky blonde making vicious little comments under her breath to opposing counsel are fun to watch, i never want to be that blonde. i want to be the blonde who does her best for her clients, her firm and HERSELF every day. i get far too few hours of sleep to lose any of them to worry about whether i did the right thing that day. some cliches aren't true (fight fire with fire), but some are: you get more bees with honey.


  1. I like this post. It is hard to always be kind, but if it makes things easier in the long run, it can be worth it Thanks for sharing :)