When I was in law school, Carol and I rented an apartment in a two-family house from a couple who were both lawyers. Not only did both husband and wife practice law, but it seemed like all their friends were lawyers or law students. Our first holiday season at this apartment, the couple invited us to a New Year’s Eve party. We were surprised to find ourselves in a room with about 50 lawyers and law students. As Carol was the only non-lawyer or law student in the room, she felt very out numbered. But I must confess, so did I. The “problem” we quickly discovered was, good lawyers frequently have big egos, and a room full of them can be truly an unparalleled experience.
Those who know me, know that I love to tell a story. It is tough to tell a story when everyone in the room seems to have a story to top yours. A couple of “good listeners” would certainly have helped the party. That night I vowed then to be a good lawyer who was also a “good listener”, and, if possible, to surround myself with lawyers who also possess this trait.
Years ago, when my now partner, Cheryl Morrissey, joined the firm as an associate, she told me during her interview, after meeting with all the attorneys in our office, that she liked our firm because everyone was so “up”, that there was “not a down trodden lawyer among them.” Of course, some days we all feel down trodden, but on the balance, one of the things I enjoy about our firm is, we have collected under one roof a group of very positive and very competent, constructive lawyers who enjoy what they do, and in particular, helping people.
One of the problems that we lawyers, complain about, is the increasing lack of civility in our profession. It is undoubtedly a fair criticism, but I can tell you that WJ&L, LLP lawyers, to a person, always seek to disagree, without being disagreeable. It does make a difference. Even more important, although we can be fierce fighters in a just battle, we seek always to be “constructive lawyers.” On the balance, we want to be problem solvers. Although our lawyers are very comfortable in the courtroom, we believe that litigation is usually the least desirable way to solve a problem, and as such, encourage our clients to work toward reasonable solutions when a dispute occurs. Even better, we try to help our clients form relationships, enter contracts, and do business deals in such a way as to minimize the possibility of dispute ever occurring. The lawyering process can be very creative. A creative business executive is said to be one who can think “outside the box.” We try to use the same approach to lawyering. We particularly enjoy being given a tough set of facts and then trying to think creatively to a way to move towards a fast, efficient solution.
In a world where lawyer jokes are guaranteed a laugh, and even those who like their own lawyer, do not have much good to say about lawyers as a group, one sometimes wonders whether this is a good profession. The answer is…it is. The lawyers at WJ&L, LLP are good examples of why this is the case. But we can’t take all the credit, our clients deserve some too. Over the years we have developed wonderful relationships with a group of people who enjoy constructive, creative and efficient solutions to their business and personal needs. Although frustrations can and do occur, on the balance, I think we have created an island of at least some sanity, in an increasingly crazy world. Good listening, constructive lawyering, creativity…a process…a method of solving problems, a way of life. It works. v
Thomas M. Wells is the Senior Partner at WJ&L, LLP.