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Vol. 35, No. 1

Back to school

by William R. Bay

We sent our youngest child off to college recently for her sophomore year. She’s well prepared. After all, we have provided her countless talks on the value of organization, hard work, and follow-through; the importance of being at class, taking notes and listening; seeking help from the professor; finding the right friends and organizations. You know the drill. She gets it. Her first year was fine. And she’ll be fine this year. But we still worry and provide advice.

This year, her days getting ready to go back to school were a bit different. Sure, we had lunch with her grandparents, and each of her friends came by before they left. And packing is still a chore. However, during the last few days before it was time to go, she and my wife had an impulse to watch DVDs of the “Gilmore Girls” television series. They tried to watch every episode from seven seasons and stayed up late into the night to do so. They gathered a dizzying array of food one night—tacos, pizza, salad, chips and salsa, bags of candy, cinnamon rolls, and ice cream. They laughed and yelled and replayed scenes. They were all about fun, food, and a passion for “Gilmore Girls” episodes. I didn’t get it.

As I sat in my bedroom, trying to concentrate over the noise at 2:00 a.m., it dawned on me that my wife was preparing our daughter for college in her own way. Less advice, speeches, and instructions. Just spending time, creating memories, being a friend. Things that last. In my hurry to impart advice, it’s a perspective I had not sufficiently considered. Relationships matter more than ever, especially in these days of change.

It occurred to me that what’s true at home is also true with the newer attorneys in our offices and our profession. We spend a great deal of time training them in research, writing, pleadings, corporate formation. We stress the importance of being organized. They’re all essential. We do this because the practice of law is complicated. It throws us unexpected curves. We produce voluminous files and outlines. We anticipate every argument and consider every detail. We work very hard. And we insist that those around us do so as well.

Sometimes we forget the importance of the intangibles. About how we should treat attorneys and how we’d like to be treated. About our profession and what it means to be a lawyer. About our bar associations and what they stand for. About the importance of living our values. The truth is that preparation is essential, but not enough. Relationships matter. They give meaning to the goals we seek. That’s a message we can’t tell newer attorneys often enough.

Our clients have problems to be solved. Goals to be met. Justice to be served. As attorneys, we have successes and failures in every endeavor, and we learn from each. But we also make friendships and create memories that last a lifetime with lawyers, judges, clients, and the people we work with and meet along the way.

That’s one of the things that makes our profession unique. It’s also one of the important values of bar associations. In times of change, let’s not lose sight of the fact that relationships matter. A simple statement, but a difficult task. Our challenge is to do more than just say it to those we hope will follow in our footsteps.

Sure, I’d much prefer to dispense advice. Just ask my family. But as my daughter heads back to school this year, relationships present a new and different challenge. And that’s true for our bar associations as well. I suspect you already knew that. I’m up to the task. I hope your bar association is, too.