Young, New Lawyers: Get Rid of “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”

Every summer I make my personal suggestion to our younger, summer law student associates that they stop using “Yes Sir” and “Yes Ma’am”, etc.   In most cases their response is that it is a learned habit showing respect.   This is not a surprise.  And, BTW, this blog post is solely my own personal view.  I speak for no one else.

But, my long-held personal perspective is that “Yes Sir / Ma’am” is appropriate only in situations where one’s role is purposely ranked and subordinate as part of the job.   And, the only situation I think that fits this role is the military.   I have no opposition to “Yes Sir / Ma’am” in that case.

But, I oppose its use in virtually all other cases.   I do not see other relationships as a purposeful subordination, such as, merely for examples, adult-child, teacher-student, lawyer-assistant, boss-employee, office worker-janitorial staff, dinner customer-server, and so forth.

Here is a thought.  And, some readers will likely disagree.  The idea that “respect” is the basis for “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” is a red-herring. Only those already in a dominant position of power (or at least they think so of themselves) get hung-up on others showing respect.   By contrast, my view is that respect means equality.  And, under that notion I owe no one a “Yes Sir” and they owe me no “Yes Sir”.  We are equals.

Finally, I end this blog with a legal point readers might find interesting.  The State of Louisiana has a state law that mandates its schools require the use by students of “Yes Sir / Yes Ma’am” when any public school student is speaking with any public school system employee while on school property or at a school-sponsored event.  Click here for the law.

Young and Older Lawyers: Retain a Hobby!!!

imageI read a recent email newsletter from a national search firm titled “Another Big Law Firm Attorney I Know Just Died Young”. Click here for the newsletter link.

This same newsletter writer also commented earlier that law firms prefer lawyers with no outside interests who have a central focus on their work. This writer stated: “It is actually better to be mildly boring than very interesting when getting a law firm position.” You draw your own conclusion about this statement.

But to the contrary, I believe retaining a hobby for your lifetime that you (yes, you lawyers out there) find enjoyable, yet demanding and challenging, greatly preserves the plasticity and creative physiology of your brain, and your flexible thinking-process.  This enhances your skill as a lawyer.  I presently face the enjoyable, yet frequently arduous, challenge of constantly trying to improve my improvisational jazz guitar playing.

BTW, above is an early college photograph of me with the great, now-late Spanish classical guitarist Andres Segovia as he autographed the face of one of my guitars.  I am on the far right in this photograph holding my guitar for his signature.  [Segovia used a black Sharpie that produced a beautiful autograph.]

Power (Part 4): The Movie “Fight Club”

A theme I refer to often as a lawyer is “power”. [See my previous three posts on this topic.] That is, how can I help clients maintain greater power over their circumstances so as to have, what I consider, a more enjoyable response to life. A life not burdened by indecision, doubt, fear of what or how other people are reacting or thinking about them, etc.  In other words, greater independence and control.

Loss of control fuels anger very effectively. As a relevant aside, I heard on the radio this morning that today is Colin Powell’s 79th birthday. I am reminded of his great “Get mad. Then, get over it.” comment he made a few years ago on a talk show in response to him and his wife on their then-50th wedding anniversary.

I also grew up with many discussions and reflections on the topic of anger. My late father, who practiced law in Atlanta for 45 years, planted firmly into my two brothers and me the notion of “firm, but friendly”. He did not shy away from controversy nor from anger. For him the balance of anger in a firm but friendly manner was a constant aspiration that required persistent practice.

But, this practice is certainly, in my view, a better option than merely being compliant, weak, overly concerned always with what others think, and indecisive.  Two of the saddest characters in literature burned into my early consciousness are George Babbitt (in Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis) and Willy Loman (in Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller). They each powerfully symbolize a compliant, weak, concern-always-with-what-others-think, indecisive character. Images of great unhappiness.

Now, why this blog post? One of my teenage daughters this past weekend wanted to watch a movie “that plays with your mind”.  She selected Fight Club (1999), with Edward Norton and Brad Pitt. The movie is based on the 1996 book with the same title by Chuck Palahniuk. We both thought the movie was compelling and extremely thought-provoking. We liked it.

So as not to be a spoiler, I say only two things about Fight Club for this post. One is that it touches extremely well on bringing the audience directly to the above Babbitt / Loman notion of lack of power and its resulting self-destruction. Two is that if you watch this movie, or have seen it before, ponder for a moment what reaction you have or had to it. The magic of the movie is how likely telling are the array of responses from viewers. Your response might better inform you about your own perspective of the above power / independent notion.

“I would be crushed, then I would be un-crushed.”

My two daughters and I had a spontaneous discussion the other evening about death, that to my surprise greatly eased my worry (as all parents have) about how our children will fare after our death.

We were talking about my new lawyer shoes that the salesman said would easily last two lifetimes. One of my daughters, in response, said: “Daddy, but you will not live that long.” I responded “You are exactly right, but I certainly plan to be around as long as I can.”

My daughter’s comment prompted me to remind my girls that it is likely inevitable I will die before they die. And, I said that although they will be sad and feel a loss, they will have the strength and ability to move on in life and not be crushed by my death. They will have the emotional durability to continue with life without being persistently burdened by my death, etc.  My oldest daughter then responded: “I will be crushed when you die; but, then I will be un-crushed.”  I replied: “What a great response!”

For purposes of this blog post, let me just say the attitude and responses from my daughters give me a great sense of comfort and repose about death. That is, my death and its potential effect on them. I am actually quite surprised at how strongly I feel relief after this discussion.

Also, my purpose with this blog post is not to try and compel anyone as to how they should think or deal with death, etc. But, death is a topic I believe needs to be openly discussed.

And, for me the ultimate, most satisfying perspective I know of about death culminates in a passage from Robert Persig’s fine book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”. More specifically, the passage is about Persig’s son Chris who, at age 11 rode with Persig on the motorcycle trip described in this book, was stabbed to death 10 years later as a victim in a failed-robbery attempt.

In the book’s “Afterward”, that Persig later added after Chris’s death, Persig describes his own persistent “stuckness” about his son’s death. This stuckness appeared to have no possibility of resolution.

But, in an extraordinary, moving passage in this Afterward, Persig describes a comforting resolution to this stuckness about his son Chris. I believe Persig’s commentary is one of the more satisfying responses I have found to the hard, difficult question about death.

Click here for a link to Persig’s Afterward.

Change is Inevitable. Embrace It. Plan for It.

The essence of this post is that change is inevitable.  As a lawyer I try and help my clients accept and anticipate change by putting in place adaptable planning, particularly adaptability that later can kick in as needed without costly, lawyer / judicial oversight, etc.   As to change generally, my view is that we all should expect it and embrace it. Preventive planning is, therefore, a means of more cost-effectively smoothing out the edges of inevitable change.

This notion of change hit me yesterday strongly while I was reading the NYT’s book reviews. I was particularly drawn to the following couple of items, prompting this blog post.

The first is from a review (as one of the top NYT books of 2015) of T.C. Boyle’s novel The Harder They Come. Essentially about a father coming to terms with his violent son who is wanted by the law, etc.  Among several comments by the NYT reviewer applauding this book, I was struck by one of its themes described as “the dark fallout of ideological certainty and obsession.”

The second NYT book review that struck me is Dylan Goes Electric, by Elijah Wald.  This is about Bob Dylan’s revolutionary injection into the 1965 Newport Folk Festival of the electric guitar. The reviewer refers to this as Dylan savaging the then-acoustic sanctuary of the Newport Folk Festival stage.  Apparently shocking and greatly criticized at that time, Dylan’s “change” is significant in the history of popular music. Our music world, in my opinion, was greatly enhanced by Dylan’s change.  Here is a YouTube link of Dylan’s electrified performance of “Maggie’s Farm” if you wish to see footage of this event.  I recommend you watch it.  Click here.

Learner’s Driving Permit = Life

I am teaching one of my daughters how to drive with her learner’s permit. My car, BTW, has a manual transmission. So, my daughter gets the additional benefit of learning the art of smooth, manual up-shifting and downshifting, etc. The enjoyable art of driving.  I am very proud of how well she is doing.

The point of this post is that these driving lessons reaffirm for me (that I also share with my daughter) the notion that our driving ideally should mirror how we live, generally.

That is, during these driving lessons I suggest to my daughter that she needs always to be in control of her own driving framework. This means not hooking into some other driver’s framework. This also means driving in a courteous, cooperative manner, but still only within my daughter’s own framework.

Here is an example.  There is a slow driver in the right lane, rolling along in an idiot-like manner (we have all seen this), slowing down and speeding up for no apparent reason, continuing to move along indecisively with a continuous left-turn signal on. Some drivers see this slow driver and themselves get distracted, yes distracted, by trying to get into the head of the slow driver, pondering or wondering: “I don’t know what that driver is doing.   Why do they keep moving along with a turn-signal but not making any turn or change?  What do you think they are doing?  Maybe I should slow down until I know what they are doing, etc.”.

This can become a dangerous distraction.  I tell my daughter not to waste her time or mental energy trying to ponder and get inside that other slow driver’s head or try and guess what that other driver’s framework might be, other than my daughter making sure she drives defensively past this other driver. The solution is to get away from that slow driver and move on without additional distraction.

Sure, my daughter needs to consider if this slow driver  is a danger or threat (yes, he is), but then simply move on and get away from that driver. The main point:  Don’t get distracted and pulled into someone else’s framing of any situation.  Maintain your own framework. Continue with focus on your own perspective.

By analogy life requires the same focused, perspective.  Don’t get caught up, or waste your time,  in another’s (especially an idiot) framework or in that other person’s head. It’s dangerous.











Mad Men: “Living in the ‘not knowing’” [Season 7]

What motivates me as a lawyer is helping my clients tap into their sense of control and power.  Both as a preventive measure and in dealing with conflict and controversies. This post and my next couple of posts center on the idea of our own power.

Realizing life in large part is “not knowing” should point us all in a direction of living with a sense of power, rather than dependence.  A key point is we cannot wait and expect others to take care of us or seek direction and oversight from others.  We have the power to help frame our own circumstances.

My sense is that many people were taught a “go-along-get-along” perspective. History is replete with political and religious reasons why this attitude has been prevalent.  A view of life in the direction of power, regrettably, has not always been a predominant notion in our society.

As an important aside, it is the hope and desire that someone else let us know what we should think or do that causes so much dissatisfaction and conflict in life.  We simply don’t want to rock the boat.  And not rocking the boat requires us to rely on others to chart our course in life.  But, this makes us half-dead in my view.

So, what prompted this blog post?

This stems from earlier this week when I watched the Mad Men season 7 episode “The Strategy”.  For many reasons I could state that would make this blog post much too long, Mad Men has done a phenomenal job of making character Don Draper an extremely substantive person.  Many of the other characters appear simply to go along without examining their actions and responses to life.

Regardless of what one thinks about his difficulties with alcohol and women (I touch in this in my next post), Don Draper is an excellent example of the power I describe in this post. To his applaudable credit, Don is self-reflective, creative, smart, tenacious, and not simply a go-along-get-along character.

Below is dialogue from “The Strategy” episode between Don Draper and Peggy Olson, just before Peggy is to pitch a national ad campaign for Burger Chef with the hope of landing Burger Chef as a new client.

Don’s last lines below in addition to his “Living in the ‘not knowing’” comment I use in the caption to this post both hit the bullseye for me. This is also an epiphany for Peggy to begin tuning-in to her own power.

Excerpt from Mad Men Season 7 “The Strategy”:

Peggy Olson:

So you’re going to pitch the hell out of my sh*tty idea, and I’m going to fail.

Don Draper:

Peggy, I’m here to help you do whatever you want to do.


Well, how am I supposed to know?


That’s a tough one.


You love this.


Not really. I want you to feel good about what you’re doing, but you’ll never know. That’s just the job.


What’s the job?


Living in the “not knowing”.


You know, I wouldn’t have argued if it was me.
I would have just given you a hundred ideas and never questioned why.

You really want to help me? Show me how you think.
Do it out loud.


You can’t tell people what they want.
It has to be what you want.

Helping Clients Have Power: Blog Post 3 of 3

This is my third post on what I am referring to as “power”. This is power to help us all chart life within our own framework.  Free, generally, from the judgment, expectation, criticisms or agenda of others.  I also am not talking about narrow-minded power to the point of excluding completely others’ views or suggestions or causing purposeful ill treatment of others.

I also realize “power” might not always be the appropriate word.   Possibly the word “fearless” fits more accurately.  My earlier Post 2 of 3 (2/5/15) includes one of my favorite comments attributed to Gandhi: “Be truthful, gentle, and fearless.”

Nonetheless, the specific point of this blog post is to suggest to readers that they consider not using “you” responses in opposition to another person’s judgment, expectations, criticisms or agenda.  A few examples of what not to say are: ‘You are being so unreasonable.’;  ‘You are being unfair.’;  ‘Don’t you understand?’, ‘You are making me angry.’, etc.   I see absolutely no upside to this “you” approach.   It can more often, in my view, signal weakness.

By contrast, more direct, powerful responses such as ‘I simply don’t agree with you.’; or ‘I have already stated my position.  I am not going to keep repeating it.’;  or ‘I comprehend what you are saying.  But, I do not agree.’;  or ‘Alright, you have stated your opinion.’, etc. convey that you are not being controlled emotionally or substantively by the comments of others.  This is the kind of power that, in my view, results in much greater satisfaction in life. including effectively dealing with the inevitability of conflict and disagreements.

Letting the other person know they have no power to get under your skin, and that you are able at all times to stand resolute, confident, calm, and relaxed in the heat of conflict, give you the more comfortable hand of power and satisfaction in life.

Coincidentally with this post, I recently found some of my old travel postcards from my college-days first trip to Paris in 1976.  I was amused to read the following portion of a card I sent to my parents at that time.  I had no idea then I would become a lawyer;  but, this Paris anecdote, although simple, almost immaterial, is where I could have fretted or fumed about this sandwich clerk trying to overcharge me, but rather my friend and I responded in a manner that hopefully let the guy know, with a little purposeful jab, we also had power over him.   Here is the excerpt from my 1976 postcard:

Today as we first got to the Latin Quarter of Paris, I went to a small shop to buy a sandwich. The sandwich consisted of a yeast bun, very dry, and insides of hot sauce, meat (unknown), potatoes, carrots, green and black olives. As I paid for the sandwich I gave the cashier 50 francs (a single bill).  He took the 50 franc bill and said “Bye” with a wave. I said, “Non”, for the sandwich cost 3 francs. He gave me the change with a smile. Shortly thereafter, Frank [my traveling buddy] came into the shop to buy a sandwich. Frank asked me how much was the cost. I told him it was 3 francs but to only give the man 2 francs, which he did. Immediately the man smiled and said, “One franc”. Frank paid the remainder, we all laughed a little, and left.



Update your Definition of “Spouse” in Legal Documents

The jumbled status of states that do and do not recognize same-sex married couples mandates that you clarify in legal documents (particularly for trusts and estates) your preferred definition of “spouse”.   The following is a broad definition that includes same-sex spouses:

19.4    In applying any provision of this trust agreement that refers to a person’s “spouse”, that spouse shall include a married person as to either (i) opposite-sex married couples or (ii) same-sex married couples, whose marriage [as to clause (i) or (ii)] is recognized either, or both, in such married couple’s state of celebration or state of residence or domicile.

I am rereading the novel Babbitt (1922) by Sinclair Lewis

One of the books I have long believed influenced me the most in my early college years is Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis.   It was published in 1922, with Sinclair Lewis in 1930 winning the Nobel Prize in Literature.   I reread this novel last week and still find it an exceptionally powerful book.

I will not bore you with my particular experience and reaction to the book. But, the essence, in my view, for any reader is not to let yourself get so caught up on the conveyor belt of work and society with the result that you fail to follow the beat of your own drummer (as best you can).   The pull of this conformist conveyor belt is persistent and insidious, as Babbitt experiences in this fine novel.

Here is a great excerpt from a discussion between Babbitt and his son Ted:

“Well—” Babbitt crossed the floor, slowly, ponderously, seeming a little old. “I’ve always wanted you to have a college degree.” He meditatively stamped across the floor again. “But I’ve never—Now, for heaven’s sake, don’t repeat this to your mother, or she’d remove what little hair I’ve got left, but practically, I’ve never done a single thing I’ve wanted to in my whole life! I don’t know’s I’ve accomplished anything except just get along. I figure out I’ve made about a quarter of an inch out of a possible hundred rods. Well, maybe you’ll carry things on further. I don’t know. But I do get a kind of sneaking pleasure out of the fact that you knew what you wanted to do and did it. Well, those folks in there will try to bully you, and tame you down. Tell ’em to go to the devil! I’ll back you. Take your factory job, if you want to. Don’t be scared of the family. No, nor all of Zenith. Nor of yourself, the way I’ve been. Go ahead, old man! The world is yours!”