Monthly Archives: April 2013

Professional Models and the Examined Life

My partner, Jim Williams tells of consciously identifying models early in his career. He kept a journal in which he identified lawyers whom he admired.

I may have this wrong, but I believe that each model got a different page in the journal; and Jim recorded what he admired about each lawyer and wanted to emulate. Then he gave himself objectives calculated to reach those goals and he somehow accounted for, or chronicled his progress.

This puts me in mind of Weinberg on Writing: The Fieldstone Method, by Gerald M. Weinberg, which is a book about how to write a book. The core of it is its suggestion that – as a basis for writing – you should keep a kind of journal. Well, not really a journal, but a collection of notes to be compiled later and organized into something bigger. (This is said to be like fieldstones collected to build a rock wall.) Weinberg’s key point, is that your notes should record, thoughts, observations or experiences that have energy for you . The test for what you record is only whether there is energy or emotion or some spark for you in what you observe, or the thought that occurs to you. If there is, write it down. Gather, evaluate and organize later.

First, cultivate awareness of what has energy for you from moment to moment. Then, capture it; you’ll forget it if you don’t.

“The examined life.” This is a good thing to do, even if you never write a book.

Williams took the same ideas several steps further and harnessed them to his professional development. The method:

  1. consciously identify professional models;
  2. note what it is about those models that causes you to choose them;
  3. ask yourself what steps you might take to become more like your models; and
  4. keep track.

Call it The Williams Method.

A terrific idea. Wish I had known about this back then. Wait a minute. I know about it now . . .. There is energy here.

Hummus forever

A well-intentioned note here and a resulting newspaper article  some time back have identified me with hummus forevermore. So, I have been referred to this hummus note at Slate: “You Are Doing It Wrong: Hummus.”  A kindred spirit.

My experience suggests that it’s not a good idea to go about telling people that how they are making hummus is wrong. You must do that very carefully.

Sources of Professional “Inspiration”

For a Bar Association program in 2003, I was asked to answer this question: “What do you find inspires your colleagues most?” (NOTE: The date on my file says “2003,” but I find that hard to believe.)

My answer, in part, was:inspiration-290x273

I think that there are two main things that guide us at our firm when we are at our best. The first is the models provided by older lawyers whom the younger ones want to emulate. I have now witnessed this working over 2 or 3 generations and I think that there is more power in the example of an admired professional than in all the vision and mission statements and ethics codes in the world.

Second, is membership in a mutually supportive community of people – a partnership – who like, respect and enjoy each other. We’re never as good as we ought to be in our firm, but sometimes we are very good and I guess that collegiality and community really are sources of “inspiration and dedication”.

The things that inspire my colleagues most, I think, are the examples of admired colleagues and the sense of community and shared purpose.

Over the (apparently, many) years since then, I have become more convinced of my answer. And, in these sources of “inspiration” (that was my interlocutor’s term, not mine) can be found the foundations and future role and functions of law firms. In the 21st Century, law firms won’t be needed as much as they were in the 20th Century, for shared infrastructures and practice support resources. They won’t be needed for scale or efficiencies.

But, they will be needed to develop and form true professionals. Always, the profession has been shaped by its models. In the 19th Century, the bar itself was a cohesive community and a ready source of models. In the 20th Century, those roles shifted to firms. In the 21st Century, as local, state and national boundaries count for less and less; compelling models of professionalism will be needed more and more — especially as collaborating and contesting lawyers seek to connect over greater and greater distances.

There is a lot of talk just now about mentors. Yes. But do not confuse mentors with models.