19 October 2010

Drive Your Own Car

I can’t tell you how often in my life I have instructed other drivers in the error of their ways from the high and mighty vantage point of my car.   From turn signals to stop signs to speeding to not speeding, others rarely drove how I would wish them to do.  “Traffic would flow so much better,” I’d think, “if people would just drive with the greater good in mind rather than their own selfish interests of just getting someplace fast.”  Certainly it seemed to me that if the greater good were as I saw it then at least I’d get someplace faster. One super-power I really, really wanted was the ability to make all four tires go flat on any transgressor’s car – oh, not right there on the highway, but sometime later when it’s parked and the flat tires would simply be an unbelievably annoying karmic payback for cutting me off.

Suffice to say other drivers rarely heeded my unspoken but strongly thought and recommended instructions. This in turn led to endless frustration for yours truly until one day  while sitting in traffic, I realized in a flash of perhaps obvious insight that I can’t change any of those other drivers – most especially when I am behind the wheel of my car. I realized that I can only drive my car.  Inner peace ensued. Now whenever anyone cuts me off, zooms by me on an icy Colorado interstate or flips me off, my mantra is “Drive Your Own Car.” I still get a little angry but I find it goes away much quicker and  best of all, I don't have that guy tailgating my thoughts for the rest of my drive.

This would seem an obvious insight and yet the incidents of road rage we hear and read about, the frustrations I hear from co-workers after the long drive in, or the general consensus that everyone else is a lousy driver would appear to indicate otherwise.

Not just in the car, I am finding that this mantra applies to my entire life – anytime I am becoming angry with what someone else says, does or doesn’t do, their opinion or lack thereof or  when I feel my pride coming to the fore, I remind myself to “Drive My Own Car.”  Because that’s all we can ever really do isn’t it?

We can only live our lives and nothing makes life harder than trying to make others live up to our expectations or failing to live up to theirs - either way, it only disappoints us and makes them angry.

So drive your own car - I guarantee you'll be happier and, as a result, those around you will be too.

But would it kill you to use your turn signals?

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

12 October 2010

Haste Makes Waste (The Tao of Law Series)

This is a series of short posts (they have to be short given how few words Lao Tzu needed to lay out the Tao) showing how the Tao te Ching can help improve your practice of law – and life.

“Do you have the patience to wait until your mud settles and the water is clear?” (No. 15)

So often as lawyers we are called upon by our clients to ACT. And act NOW. And sometimes we must do so as when a restraining order or TRO is needed or the persistent clock of the Statute of Limitations is ticking loudly. But most often, there is no need for haste on our part or to demand the same of opposing counsel. Haste is the enemy of reason. And so no real friend to the practice of law.

The desire for speed is almost an illness in our society. From overnight packages to PDFs sent by email to teleconferences to save travel time to clients wishing their deal, their lawsuit, their negotiations to be done the day before yesterday – where yesterday used to be fast enough – we place more value on speed than accuracy, propriety, or even right decisions. Speed looks for the shortcut, the easy win, the fast buck. In the end, making a virtue of speed reduces the legitimacy of our profession.

“Haste makes waste,” my grandfather often said in his unknowing translation of Lao Tzu.

Wisdom about the right course of action, solid counsel and understanding of options rarely arises out of speed. I’m not talking about procrastination, overworked lawyers just trying not to drown, dragging out litigation as a tactical matter or delay for the sake of delay, I’m talking about prudence, careful consideration and deliberate action. Once a course of action is decided, then - BOOM! - move decisively. Often times more time on careful deliberation simply means you can act faster thereafter and it really doesn’t even take more time in total because you have marked your destination, clearly mapped out your route and so can move rapidly down your path.

If you wait for “your mud” or your client’s mud to settle before acting you might discover that there is more or less to your client’s claims or your concerns, and that knowledge can make all the difference, not only in determining your destination, but whether it is even worth the journey.

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth

5 Things My Son's Stay In The Hospital Taught Me About The Practice Of Law

Last week I was unexpectedly in New York City at Beth Israel Hospital for five days to be with my son who underwent emergency abdominal surgery. In the course of watching the care he received I noted a few points that seemed applicable to us lawyers.
  1. Make Sure Your Instructions Are Being Followed. Every day my son’s surgeon would come around. Let’s call him Dr. Gabe (not real name). He was knowledgeable, smart and compassionate. He’d leave orders for the folks providing the daily care to my son. “Take off the IV.” “Change to this painkiller.” Whatever. Inevitably he’d come back later in the day or the next morning and discover that the staff had ignored him. “Why do you still have that IV?” He’d say the next morning, and then storm off to make sure it got done or even do it himself. It was frustrating for him but even more frustrating for my son. I think he ended up staying in the hospital an extra day out of six because of this pattern. What instructions of yours are being ignored?
  2. Explain Why. Nothing drove my son nuts more than someone doing some medical thing to him when that person couldn’t or wouldn’t explain why it was being done. He was happy to be a good patient when he understood the reason for things. Have you explained “why” to your clients lately?
  3. Never Forget Why You Are There. A friend who is a lawyer for a major hospital chain once joked, “Rich, the practice of hospital law would be so much easier if there were no patients.” While the majority of the caregivers we dealt with were solid and compassionate, there were those who had clearly taken my friend’s joke to heart in terms of the practice of medicine. Do your associates and fellow partners understand why you are practicing law?
  4. Tell The Truth. One thing the hospital got right was not sugar coating the situation. It was serious and they told my son, me and my ex exactly what they really thought was going on. But guess what, when it turned out not to be so bad, we were so relieved and happy. When you tell someone they are likely to wake up from surgery with a colostomy bag, and they wake up and they don’t have one – great. If you don’t tell them about that possibility or down play it, and they do wake up with one, guess what... I hate it when doctors sugarcoat it. BTW, telling the truth is not the same as managing expectations; managing expectations is form of lying. What are you telling your clients?
  5. Just Do It. Sometimes the nurses or doctors or whoever would say. “Sure, we’ll do [insert procedure]. I’ll be right back.” And then they’d disappear. Sometimes for hours. When you promise something, deliver it when you promised you would. Period. No excuses. Unless, of course, your son is undergoing emergency abdominal surgery... Do you need to get back to your client about something?
BTW, my son is out of the hospital and doing fine though he won’t be doing sit-ups anytime soon!

Thanks for reading.

Richard Russeth