May 15, 2020 Articles

“If I Had a Boat”: What I Wish I Had Known as a Young Lawyer

Five lessons learned from many failures.

By Richardson R. Lynn
I wish I had known that one day you could practice law while sitting on a beach in Fiji using a handheld computer that also makes phone calls.

I wish I had known that one day you could practice law while sitting on a beach in Fiji using a handheld computer that also makes phone calls.

The best speech I ever gave was based on a verse from “If I Had a Boat” by Lyle Lovett. In the song, the “mystery masked man” is smart because he has Tonto, who does “the dirty work for free,” much like a young law firm associate. But Tonto turns out to be smarter than the average young associate when he says, “Kemo sabe / Kiss my *** I bought a boat / I’m going out to sea.” Lyle Lovett, If I Had a Boat, on Pontiac (MCA/Curb 1987). The speech, addressed to a group of soon-to-be-graduating law students, described several common dilemmas facing new lawyers under pressure from law firm partners, judges, or clients to do the wrong thing. After working through each dilemma, my advice was to make the right choice while telling the “pressuror” to “kiss my [grits] I bought a boat / I’m going out to sea.” Id. (with apologies to Lovett for substituting his word with “grits”). That advice, naturally, came from my own failures—but not my only failures.

What do I wish I had known as a young lawyer? When I began in 1976, I wish I had known that one day you could practice law while sitting on a beach in Fiji using a handheld computer that also makes phone calls. Granted, that would not have been useful information at the time; but my law partner had taken out a second mortgage on his house to pay $25,000 for a desk-sized computer to print out real-estate closing documents, and it would have been fun to say, “Hey, why don’t you wait 45 years?”

In contrast, there are a few things that I wish I’d known that actually would have been useful.

Premium Content For:
  • Litigation Section
Join - Now