March 01, 2017

Defining Moments: Seeds of Success

Melanie Bragg

How do you handle the challenges you face each day in your law practice? Do you look for lessons and success after the fact? How you answer this question could hold the keys to your success.

Have you ever wondered how your life experiences affect how you manage your day-to-day affairs and your law practice? We solo lawyers are truly jacks-of-all-trades. A number of skills used in a variety of ways are necessary just to stay on top of the deluge of information we receive and the many deadlines that we must meet each day, month, and year.

I interviewed former ABA President Michael Greco for Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul. It was a great interview, and we both cried more than once. One of the big seeds of success in his life occurred when he was nearly ten years old. An immigrant from Italy, he and his family of seven settled into Chicago in the late summer of 1952. The house they rented was a parish house that had been moved from one location to another. Even though the utilities were supposed to be hooked up upon move-in, they weren’t. The family had no water, sewage services, natural gas, or electricity. It was a crisis. His father’s English was almost nonexistent, and his mother had a hard time coping with the situation. Luckily, Mike’s English was fluent after two years in the States. His father was frustrated because he could not explain to the town manager of the Village of Hinsdale and to the Department of Health that after a week, the family still did not have water and utilities. His father took Mike to Town Hall and had him explain to the town manager why they needed these connections made as soon as possible.

That was Mike’s “very first bit of advocacy” on behalf of his brothers, sisters, and parents. And somehow that negative experience contained the seeds of his later success and helped form the amazing advocate he is today.

The seeds of success are in your obstacles. Learn from your challenges.

Mike has a vivid memory of the Town Hall building, the beautiful wood-paneled office, and the extremely gracious town manager, Mr. Agramonte. His daughter was in Mike’s class at school. At the 50th reunion of his high school class, Jean Agramonte took him aside and said, “I don’t know if I ever told you this, but my father never forgot you. He remembers your coming in with your father and very clearly explaining why you needed utilities for your family.” Mike fondly recalls that “It was truly amazing that, within a day and a half, all of the needed connections were made.”

Mike remembers the desperation and frustration his father felt when he wanted to care for his family but the town had not done its job and kept delaying and giving excuses. At the time, Mike didn’t see it as a gift, but he just wanted to be able to explain it to the town manager in a way that would make it happen. One lesson Mike got out of the experience is that, “You have to speak up and explain to people when something is not right. You have to help; you can’t take a bye; you can’t take a pass.” He also gained an understanding of the limitations on immigrants when they don’t know the language, don’t know the procedures—and how that causes a complete feeling of loss. He realized early on because of the experience with his father and his family that immigrants need to be welcomed; they need to be shown respect, and their dignity needs to be respected and nurtured. More of Mike’s amazing story will be featured in Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul.

Where are your seeds of success?

One way to make sure that your challenges, your frustrations that occur in your law practice on a regular basis are not wasted is to look to them for the seeds of your success. When you face obstacles, ask yourself: What can I learn here? How can I turn this around into a positive situation? What can I do better next time? What policies and procedures need to be in place to prevent this from happening again in the future?

There are so many minefields that we have to watch out for in our line of work, and the best approach is to convert our challenges into improvements in our procedures and practices. And sometimes, stuff just happens, you know? So look for the hidden treasures in your challenges and find the secrets to success! Thank you for your readership! I would appreciate any communications or comments about this column at


Melanie Bragg


Melanie Bragg has long enjoyed a reputation as one of Houston’s fiercest attorneys in her representation of children, the elderly, and mentally disadvantaged people. Her firm, Bragg Law PC, is a general civil firm in Houston, Texas. She also writes and produces legal education programs through Legal Insight, Inc. (founded by Bragg in 1993). Her writing credits include Crosstown Park, an Alex Stockton legal thriller, HIPAA for the General Practitioner, chapters in How to Capture and Keep Clients, 2nd Edition; Effortless Marketing: Putting Your Unique Qualities to Work, 2nd Edition; and The Conscious Lawyer: How the Practice of Mindfulness Will Increase Your Bottom Line, as well as the upcoming book, Defining Moments: Insights into the Lawyer’s Soul, to be published by the American Bar Association (ABA) Flagship Division. When she is not writing, Melanie devotes her time to her work as Secretary of the Solo, Small Firm & General Practice (GPSolo) Division and to sharing ideas with fellow authors. She is interested in your feedback and ideas about how solos, small firms, military, and government lawyers can lead richer, happier lives and thereby improve the delivery of legal services to the public. Melanie can be reached at