The other day I came across an article by one of my favorite writers, Lee Rosen. Lee was a successful lawyer who decided he didn’t want to spend his life sitting in an office in North Carolina but instead wanted to see the world AND practice law. How he did that, and the lessons it holds for all of us is for another day and time.
The essence of Lee’s recent article that caught my eye was his conclusion about the need to have a vision first and then act. And about how formulating a vision is not easy.
The article resonated with me for two reasons.
First, I recently made a transition from the full-time practice of law with a large firm to a full-time blogger, writer and consultant and solo lawyer/strategist. As I wrote in my recent story of my journey, the actual change for me was pretty easy. (And yes, I’m enjoying it immensely). But it was only easy because I put in the hard, painstaking work of formulating and creating the vision of what I wanted to do and now trying to live that vision (the best I can) all the time. That’s what I have found so hard, and I think that’s what Lee is driving at. Without hard work to formulate a vision and then more hard work trying to always and everywhere achieve that vision, you will just keep running in place, always wishing for something more or different.
Without hard work to formulate a vision and then more hard work trying to always and everywhere achieve that vision, you will just keep running in place, always wishing for something more or different.
The second reason Lee’s post hit me was that it reminded me of a lesson I learned from one of my mentors. When I was a younger mass tort defense lawyer, my mentor in the business was Carl Henlein, who was famous for pioneering joint defense in the mass tort context and in successfully defending cases involving multi death fires, medical devices like breast implants and even the Oklahoma City bombing case.
Carl didn’t get where he was by waiting for luck. (Let’s face it, Louisville Kentucky isn’t exactly the first place corporate America would think of when it needed a lawyer for a bet the company case). Carl got there by having a vision, a clear goal where he wanted to go. And by always working it. I remember many a night sitting in Carl’s office overlooking the Ohio River (an office I inherited after Carl retired by the way), listening in awe as he formulated solutions for seemingly intractable litigation problems.
I remember one night after a hard day in the courtroom our team all retired to the local bar with Carl to unwind. As the evening and beer flowed, Carl at some point asked us all what we thought the most important thing to do right off the bat, if, by some stretch of the imagination, we were ever contacted about handling a mass tort case. The answers were pretty much what you might expect from a bunch of young lawyers. One said research the law. Another said dig up and read as many facts as possible. Yet another said, formulate a team. One enterprising and slightly more experienced/inebriated (not sure which, lol) fellow said, think how much money it’s going to bring in.
The first thing you do is stare out the window and think.
Carl looked at us and said something along the lines, “as usual you all disappoint me with your sophomoric responses.” (Carl did not suffer fools or the ignorant well). No, he said, the first thing you do is stare out the window and think. For as long as it takes until you have a vision for the case, what the best end goal for the client should be and how to get there. All the rest will always flow from that vision.
That advice stuck with me all these years. It stuck with me when I was handling mass tort cases on my own. And when I have made good life changing type decisions like the one I recently made, it was usually because I spent as much time as necessary “looking out the window.”
Forget luck. Try the vision thing: it’s as easy–and as hard– as looking out the window.
Want to know how Carl built a multi-million mass tort defense practice from Louisville Kentucky? Want to know how Lee Rosen was able to travel the world and still practice law all the while becoming one of the most respected legal practice pundits? Forget luck. Try the vision thing: it’s as easy–and as hard– as looking out the window.
And oh yeah, don’t forget to throw in a measure of hard work.
Photo by Simon Migaj on Unsplash
The second photo is of the view from Carl’s and, later, my office.