If you don’t like touchy-feely stuff, then you might want to pass on reading this post.

My career changed in a very positive way when I started thinking about my life and career purpose. All of a sudden, I had a stronger sense of direction and it was easier to plan my future.

What is your life purpose? What is your career purpose?

What do you really want in your life and in your career?

Very few young lawyers I meet have answers to those questions. In fact, I know of very few who have even pondered the questions and looked introspectively within for the answers.

Perhaps in the course of dealing with day to day work and family events, young lawyers do not take time to focus on the soul searching exercise of looking within and searching for the meaning of what they are doing.

Your life purpose or work purpose is like your calling.

As theologian, Frederick Buechner describes it:

The place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.

As a lawyer who focused on construction I tended to think of building my career in the same terms as constructing a building project. Before an architect or an engineer begins to design a project, the ultimate user of the project provides a detailed description of its intended purpose.

A few years ago, Nancy and I toured the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles.

It illustrates my point about purpose. In the narrative about the hall I learned how the famed architect, Frank Gehry, spent hours with Lillian Disney to understand her vision of the hall.

Mrs. Disney made clear that she wanted the concert hall building to reflect the culture and character of Southern California, remain accessible to the entire community, boast lovely and inviting garden areas, and offer acoustical perfection for the enjoyment of music.

It is one of the most visually and acoustically sophisticated concert halls in the world. The stainless steel panels on the outside and the hardwood paneled interior are truly unique.

I ask young lawyers to think back to that day they decided they really wanted to become a lawyer and think about what prompted them to consider law for a career.

I remember what it was for me. When I was in about 8th grade I read an autobiography of Clarence Darrow titled: The Story of My Life.


I was immediately inspired by his description of a case less famous than most. It was the Sweet trials in Detroit. It was the real life version of To Kill a Mockingbird.

Dr. Sweet and his family had moved into a white neighborhood, in part because there were no homes available int the black part of the city due to the auto industry creating the migration from the south. Each night when the family came home, there was a mob taunting them outside their house. One night a shot rang out and a man was killed.

Darrow just back from the Scopes trial in Tennessee was exhausted and wanted to rest. But, when the NAACP pleaded with him, he came to Detroit. If you want some inspiration, I urge you to read Douglas Linder’s account of the trial and Clarence Darrow’s final argument in the second trial.

Another approach to discovering your life and career purpose is to look forward.

Visualize that your firm or company is giving you a retirement party. Several people will speak about you. They include a partner, your assistant, a client, your spouse and one of your children.

What do you want each of these people to say about you? If you can visualize what each person will say about you, I think you will have a pretty clear idea of what your life purpose and career purpose are.


I confess: I love reading biographies. It all started when I was young reading about historical US Presidents. Then I enjoyed reading sports biographies. When I knew I wanted to become a lawyer, I began reading biographies about famous lawyers.

I have many old ones on my shelf. I want to lend you my favorite lawyer biography. Final Verdict is the biography of Earl Rogers written by his daughter Adela Rogers St. Johns. She literally grew up in her father’s office and the courtrooms where he tried cases. When I first read the book, I literally could not put it down.

The book begins with Adela being a witness to have her father committed because of his alcoholism. He had been picked up while driving drunk and had resisted arrest. Adela describes the courtroom this way:

Today the room was almost empty. Usually when Papa tried a case, the court and the corridors, often the lawns and sidewalks and streets, even the windows across the walls and the branches of trees were jammed…

Rogers in the courtroom was like a rockstar on stage. He drew crowds. I read the book to find out what set him apart. He lost only 3 of the 77 murder cases he defended. A popular saying of the time went:

If you are guilty, hire Earl Rogers.

You may have seen the movie Final Verdict with Treat Williams playing Earl Rogers. It wasn’t nearly as good as the book.

Final Verdict book.jpg

He also served as the role model for Erle Stanley Gardner’s character Perry Mason.

Rogers had many flaws, including extreme alcoholism. In that capacity he served as the role model for alcoholic lawyers in novels and movies. When Adela sought to have her father put away for his own good, his brilliant cross-examination of her, won his freedom. I found this quote from a link to COUNSEL for the INDEFENSIBLE, an article in American Heritage magazine:

William Fallon, the ‘Great Mouthpiece” of the 1920s, said, ‘Even when he’s drunk, Earl Rogers is better than any other stone-sober lawyer in the whole damned country.”

Did you know that Earl Rogers defended Clarence Darrow? It would be an understatement to say that the two famous trial lawyers did not get along. Much has been written about the Darrow bribery trials.

The shame for young lawyers and law students is that Final Verdict is no longer printed. It would be a wonderful book to put on Kindle. Shortly after Adela Rogers St. Johns died, LA Times writer, Jack Smith wrote: Early L.A. Law : Earl Rogers’ Life In and Out of Court Was More Dramatic Than Fiction.

When I saw Final Verdict was no longer printed, I bought a few used copies on Amazon. I also bought a copy of Once Upon a Time in Los Angeles: The Trials of Earl Rogers.

One reviewer of that book said:

He was the first American lawyer to use the science of ballistics, and was at the leading edge of medical forensic science. Rogers assisted in performing over 30 autopsies, and been present for 70 others. He saved one client from hanging after an exhumation failed to find a shot to the head that several eyewitnesses testified to seeing. Rogers was among the first to use charts and blackboards in the courtroom, along with scale models, to get his point across to a jury.

P.S. One final note: Adela Rogers St. John was a very successful journalist and writer. She led an interesting and active life of her own, which you will see in this article: What can I tell you about Mabel’s friend, Adela Rogers St. Johns? 

Want to borrow my book? If so contact me and please, please return it when you are finished.

I recently watched PBS American Masters documentary Harper Lee: Hey, Boo. If you can spare an hour and 25 minutes, I urge you to watch it. If you want to get a preview watch this short segment from the documentary about Scout.

I can’t remember when I first read Harper Lee’s book To Kill a Mockingbird. I think I read it after I saw the movie. I do remember purchasing and reading Clarence Darrow’s autobiography: The Story of My Life for $1.95. As you can see below, I still have the book.

 I was inspired to become a lawyer by final arguments given by Atticus Finch and Clarence Darrow. Both represented black defendants before prejudiced all white juries. Atticus closed with:

One more thing, gentlemen, before I quit. Thomas Jefferson once said that all men are created equal. … There is a tendency … for certain people to use this phrase out of context, to satisfy all conditions. … We know all men are not created equal in the sense some people would have us believe — some people are smarter than others, some people have more opportunity because they’re born with it, some men make more money than others, some ladies make better cakes than others — some people are born gifted beyond the normal scope of most men. But there is one way in this country in which all men are created equal — there is one human institution that makes a pauper the equal of a Rockefeller, the stupid man the equal of an Einstein and the ignorant man the equal of any college president. That institution, gentlemen, is a court. It can be the Supreme Court of the United States or the humblest J.P. Court in the land or this honorable court which you serve. Our courts have their faults, as does any human institution, but in this country our courts are the great levelers, and in our courts all men are created equal.

We all know that Atticus did not persuade the jury. But, few know that Clarence Darrow did persuade the jury in the second Sweet Trial. Clarence Darrow closed with:

Gentlemen, what do you think is your duty in this case? I have watched, day after day, these black, tense faces that have crowded this court. These black faces that now are looking to you twelve whites, feeling that the hopes and fears of a race are in your keeping.

This case is about to end, gentlemen. To them, it is life. Not one of their color sits on this jury. Their fate is in the hands of twelve whites. Their eyes are fixed on you, their hearts go out to you, and their hopes hang on your verdict.

This is all. I ask you, on behalf of this defendant, on behalf of these helpless ones who turn to you, and more than that,–on behalf of this great state, and this great city which must face this problem, and face it fairly,–I ask you, in the name of progress and of the human race, to return a verdict of not guilty in this case!

You can read about the case and Darrow’s entire final argument at the link above.

I never got the opportunity to make the difference Atticus Finch and Clarence Darrow made in these two cases. But, just watching the Harper Lee documentary inspired me once again. What inspires you?

I love quotes that inspire me, or cause me to think. Recently I read the blog Manner of Speaking and saw one of my all time favorite quotes:

Round Peg Square Hole.pngHere’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. — Steve Jobs

My first thought was there is no way that Steve Jobs would have put up with what law students and young lawyers are expected to do. Round pegs in square holes do not last in many law firms. 

My second thought was to reflect on lawyers who changed the world. Abraham Lincoln came to mind. But, he did not change the world while practicing law.

Then, I remembered the final argument in a trial that did change the world. I wrote about the lawyer in this 2006 blog post. I spoke about the trial in a 2006 presentation to Texas State Bar Leaders: Defining Moment: Being a Leader Who Makes a Difference.

The final argument was seven hours long. Marcet Haldeman-Julius said that after the defense lawyer concluded and the prosection got up for rebuttal:

Somehow it reminded one of the clatter of folding chairs after a symphony concert.  

Judge Frank Murphy who was later appointed to the Supreme Court, called listening to the defense lawyer’s summation: “the greatest experience of my life.”

The defense lawyer and his final argument defending a black defendant before an all white male jury, changed the civil rights world forever. 

I first read about the trial in the famous defense lawyer’s autobiography The Story Of My Life. Several years ago, I came across Professor Douglas O. Linder’s website: Famous Trials. You can find a great deal about the the case on that site. If you want to get started reading about a lawyer and final argument that changed the world, read Professor Linder’s summary in Melting Hearts of Stone: Clarence Darrow and the Sweet Trials.

I will leave you with one more quote. Take note that I modified it slightly. 

My heroes have always been lawyers. -slightly modified from Willie Nelson song