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.