It is so easy to get discouraged. At one time or another you may get discouraged and question whether you want to be a lawyer. I questioned my career path as early as my first year in law school when I was both bored and intimidated.
Nine years after I finished law school, in 1980, I questioned whether I wanted to ever litigate another case. In that year, I lost a jury case. I was so devastated by the loss, that I wondered if I was cut out for a lawyer’s life.
I learned from that experience that even though losing was very painful, it also caused me to think and reflect about many things. At that point, I really wasn’t having fun and I was growing restless.
Several years later, when I was really on a roll, the general counsel of my largest client decided he did not want me doing work for the company. The irony was that this occurred shortly after I had put together a presentation on a matter that resulted in a settlement proposal about five times more than the company management expected.
I had become a hero to company management who started calling me directly. The general counsel got upset and was able to convince the CEO that he was the person who should select outside counsel.
Since he was upset about management calling me, the general counsel purposely excluded me from getting work. Needless to say I was extremely discouraged.
When I look back on those years, I am always reminded of the Peggy Lee song: “Is That All There Is?”
The lyrics include the following:
“Is that all there is, is that all there is? If that’s all there is, my friends, then let’s keep dancing, Let’s break out the booze and have a ball, If that’s all there is.”
There have been times in my career when I wondered if that’s all there was…
How did I move out of my Peggy Lee discouragement? I actually did two things:
- I started by keeping written track of work I enjoyed and which clients I liked best.
- I developed a plan based on my own definition of success and my goals.
I discovered through this process that I really liked serving contractors and started focusing my client development efforts on obtaining more work from them.
So, my major definite purpose was to become the “go to lawyer” for highway/civil contractors. I wrote a law review article to build my reputation. In 1981 I made my first presentation to a group of contractors at their annual convention.
That led to many other speaking opportunities. Because of the speaking I did, in 1984 I was asked to write a monthly column for contractors in a trade publication. When I gave up my law practice to coach lawyers, I finally passed my column on to a former colleague.
I also changed how I was looking at things. I had previously focused on what I did as a lawyer and my success. I realized that for me the real pleasure was focusing on making a difference for clients.
As a result, I redefined my career success around understanding and providing what construction contractor clients needed in a more effective way than my competitors. I discovered contractor clients were less interested in what I did than they were in whether I was providing what they needed.
Very few of my contractor clients wanted to litigate their disputes. They wanted to resolve them.
So, I focused on negotiation and alternative dispute resolution. Later I focused on preparing requests for additional compensation in a manner that would most likely result in a positive resolution.
As a result of all of those changes I had made in my life and career, those haunting words: “Is that all there is?” were no longer in my mind. Instead, I was on a “Colorado Rocky Mountain High.”
As John Denver aptly sung: “He was born in the summer of his twenty-seventh year.” When I listen to “Colorado Rocky Mountain High,” I can’t help but feel upbeat about my future.