- New column will make you think about your defiining moments.
- What is your"lead line"?
- Reader participation invited.
This new bimonthly column in the eReport springs from my book Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul that will be published by the ABA Flagship Division. It is a compilation of compelling interviews with attorneys from all walks of life and all areas of practice who have bared their souls to me by sharing some of their richest life experiences. I see a defining moment as being like a clothespin that holds up one end of a sheet on a clothesline. That sheet represents the fabric of our lives; the life tapestry woven together as a product of our experiences. These attorneys share their ups and their downs and the challenges they face getting to where they are today. It has been a joy and an honor to interview them.
My goal in this column is share “Lead Lines” from the interviews and to motivate you to think about your defining moments and share them with me. When I first began this project I asked Jack Canfield, the co-creator of the NY Times #1 Bestselling Chicken Soup for the Soul Series to mentor me on this book. The first funny thing he said to me was, “Well, your book will probably be like What Men Know About Women . . . you open it up and there is nothing on the page.”
He got a big laugh from the group but I knew he was kidding. It pointed to the negative general perception of lawyers. I asked him how to get people to be vulnerable during the interviews, and he said, “Melanie, the way you get people to be vulnerable in interviews is to be vulnerable yourself.” That was great advice.
I soon learned that interviewing is a skill and that I needed lots of practice. Rick Paszkiet, our Senior Editor for the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice Division Book Publications Board, which I chair, said that I would be the “Studs Terkel of the Law.” At the time, I had no idea who Studs Terkel was, but I soon found out he was a Pulitzer Prize-winning author who interviewed common people about everyday subjects.
When I saw some of his very interesting video interviews online under the Chicago Historical Society website, I realized I agreed with many of his philosophies and would like very much to model myself after him. He said that when you make a mistake, that is ok, because it makes the interviewee relax a little and then they open up more and feel more comfortable knowing you are human. So every time my recorder doesn’t work or some kind of technical glitch occurs, I think of Studs and realize I am still on the right track, even with my mistakes.
After conducting a few interviews I realized that each lawyer’s story contained what I now call a Lead Line—a guiding principle that has stuck with them during their life. I realized that this project can be used to motivate, encourage, and educate lawyers about success principles. All of the lawyers I interviewed are leaders in their field, have accomplished high goals, and have unique perspectives that are valuable to us all.
I hope this column will reflect some of the true heart and soul of lawyers. After 32 years, I am still as encouraged and excited about the practice of law as I ever was. I still think it is the world’s greatest profession, and I am honored to be a small part of such an amazing group of individuals. I bring you stories that I hope will make you laugh, will make you cry, that you will relate to, that you will want to share with others, that will make you think of your own story, and that will make you want to share your story with me.
Let me give you a snapshot of one of my defining moments I share in the book. On a cold and rainy December day in about 1987, I was on my way to some Christmas parties: think big Texas hair and 80s fun-loving baby lawyer. I got a call around 4:30 p.m. from the probate court. I was told I had just been appointed the temporary guardian of an elderly man because Adult Protective Services had been unable to verify his status earlier that day. His utilities were cut off, and an allegedly drug-crazed nephew who might have guns could be holed up in the house with him. It was my job to get out there and verify his status: dead or alive. I picked up the order appointing me and headed out to the ghetto.
It was dark and rainy, and the place truly was on the wrong side of the tracks—the railroad tracks were next door to the house at the end of a deserted cul de sac. Luckily, I had a cell phone back then (it might have weighed 3 pounds), and I called 911. By the time I arrived, so had the police, an ambulance, and a fire truck. The group of first responders knocked on the door. They came back to me and said that no one answered and they prepared to leave. I knew I had to get into the house, but I had no idea what to do.
Somehow I managed to pull the order out and say to that group of men in uniform in the deepest, most powerful voice I could muster, “This order gives me the authority over this man’s life, and the judge ordered me to make sure he is not in this house. I am not leaving here until we know for sure. You need to bust down his door right now.” They gave me a quizzical look, then looked at one another. The power of that order and the conviction in my voice must have done the trick because they immediately broke down the door.
A couple of minutes later I heard, “Ms. Bragg, come in here.” When I walked inside, I heard a frail old man hollering, “He stole my money.” The cops had flashlights and there was Mr. Foreman, cowering on his couch; thin, covered in feces and urine; no electricity; the house freezing cold. The horrible sight is etched in my brain even today. They put him on a stretcher and as he was passing me, clearly still in shock because he was also blind, I laid my hand on his chest and said to him, “Mr. Foreman, I am Melanie Bragg. I am your legal guardian. You are going to be okay. I am taking care of you now. You are going to the hospital, and I will see you there.”
In that moment, with my hand on his heart, I felt this incredible transference of energy, and I quickly saw all those years of waiting tables, serving Mexican food to ungrateful people, studying long hours, being unsure of myself and my future, flash before me. I knew then that what I was doing in that moment was my life’s calling, that being a lawyer was so much more than making money, that my vocation gave me the power to save lives. I heard in my mind’s voice the words white angel. And I knew I was being used for a higher purpose.
What is your defining moment? Share your story with me at email@example.com and look for upcoming columns. I can’t wait to get our conversation started.