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The Godfather
Aug 23, 2009

The Godfather Explains the Practice of Law - The Most Important Rule

The law is fascinating, exciting and challenging work.  Everyday you're Corleone family attorney Tom Hagen, trying to convince Jack Woltz to give Johnny Fontaine that part in the new war film, then rushing back to go over the Sollozzo notes before the big meeting.  Whether you are trying to figure out how to negotiate a contract to your clients' benefit, drafting a trust to distribute a client's wealth without running afoul of taxing authorities, or preparing for trial in case that's a close call, there is no other work like the practice of law.  The satisfaction from this work is immense.

But the law is a jealous mistress.  She can be all consuming, all demanding.  She can, and often will, try to take priority in your life.  She can leave you battered and broken if you are not careful.  You MUST keep her in her place, no matter how much muscle you got sitting in the stairwell instead of reading in "da libary."

The practice of law will not comfort you in your final hours.  And you do not know when those hours are coming.  You could be a young Carlo taking a ride to the airport, thinking you just cheated death; a cautious Virgil Sollozzo, believing your police captain bodyguard makes you invulnerable; or an angry and consumed Sonny on the causeway.  You could be Mo Green getting a massage, or the long lived Godfather, playing with his grandson in his garden.  You just do not know.

We all know the stories of lawyers who literally died at their desks.  I personally have known 2 lawyers who died driving back from the courthouse (no, neither was on the causeway or had Clemenza in the backseat).  God forbid, you should live a long life, have a storied career, and then pass from a pernicious disease.  Alzheimer's, for one, will rob you of your memories of those great trial victories, marathon bargaining sessions, and the faces of the clients' who looked at you with such gratitude for your good work.

While it is trite, no one ever sat on his deathbed and said, "I wish I had spent more time at the office."  The practice of law, even if you are only making a living and no one ever discusses the family business, nevertheless provides a pretty decent income by national standards.  What comfort is it if you never enjoy it?  So you made so much money they named a building after you.  I guess that's great.  Does it really matter if your spouse hates you, your daughter is promiscuous, your son is doing time (or worse, wants to sing opera!), and you do not know if your friends are friends, enemies staying close, or simply business people watching out for themselves?  Was it worth it?  Your life is like fishing with Fredo... that's not good!

I'm sure some wise ass will retort, "But that was before health costs became unaffordable and I needed the money for better treatment."  Bullshit.  The chances are your quality of life today, and in the future, are not going to be particularly impacted by the political debates of the day over national healthcare policy in this country.  If you avoid destructive habits, like buying fruit with Fredo as your bodyguard, the odds are in your favor to live a rich life.  That's rich as in fulfilled; not wealthy.

In his excellent book, How to Start and Build a Law Practice, Jay Foonberg recommends putting a picture on your desk facing you, not the client.  The picture should be of whatever it is that you love - your spouse, kids, pet, boat, etc.  It faces you to remind you of what is really important.  If not, think of a horse's head in your bed - that should remind you.

Spend time with your loved ones, regardless of gender, age, or orientation.  Spend time with your children.  Coach their junior league soccer.  Never miss a game.  Spend time with your significant other.  Do things together, try some new things together; be together and stare at the sky and nothing else; do something with them you know they enjoy (even if you don't).  As a family, and especially if you've got no family, do volunteer work at the animal shelter, homeless shelter, or wherever it is needed.

It's the only way to be a real lawyer, and not be like Luca Brasi - sleeping with the fishes.

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Readers Comments
Aug 30, 2009 1:36 PM
A great reminder, especially for the young lawyers. When I started, I worked for Randy Schaffer. My children did not see me for 12 years while I worked for him because he was a slave driver & did not care (& made me feel guilty about leaving or even taking weekends. Now I feel guilty about not beeing there more. However, when I was around, it was quality time.) Being at home does not mean in front of the television. When you have children, you must interact with them - show them love & life. Same with your pets & your extended family. It does not mean hanging in the bar . . . : ) Great blog, David.
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