5 Tips for Aspiring and Accomplished Lawyers
It's not everyday that an attorney with over 35 years of experience shares his hard-earned wisdom with the rest of us. We asked Michael Hackard, of Hackard Law in Sacramento, what tips he could give aspiring lawyers and he provided us with this guest post. I find Mike Hackard's wisdon truly inspirational, hope you enjoy it too.
Whether new to the law, an accomplished thirty-something professional or a grizzled veteran, we all like to hear stories. We often share experiences or pass on the advice of our mentors, knowing that their advice helped to mold our careers. I will share some of the advice of my mentors with the caveat that I have not always faithfully followed their advice. Many of my personal experiences exemplify the truth that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Those experiences have also taught me the oft-repeated observation that “good judgment comes from experience and experience from bad judgment.”
These tips, whether learned from the wisdom of mentors or gleaned from experience, can prove helpful along our legal careers.
1. CALL THE BEST EXPERT. I worked for Senator Peter Behr in the California Legislature. He was a great Senator and a great man. He advised me to pick up the telephone and call the best expert in the country whenever I had a major issue and wanted to seek good counsel. Senator Behr shared his life experience with me and explained that experts are often complimented by the call and more often than not willing to help. I have taken his advice and applied it over the almost forty years since it was given. It works.
2. THERE BUT FOR THE GRACE OF GOD GO YOU OR I. Judge Robert Cole, an early career mentor of mine and that of many other Northern California lawyers and judges was a great character, a war hero and full of humor and insight. He commonly used to say “there but for the grace of God go you or I.” It was a saying born of his experience as a district attorney, public defender and judge. He often shared this statement with me when commenting on the particularly tragic circumstances of a defendant or the defendant’s victims. I haven’t forgotten it. It is a constant reminder to have empathy and to not forget that we are all fallible human beings. Judge Cole’s advice reflects the wisdom of Proverbs – “Pride goes before disaster, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” Keep pride in check.
3. DO THE VERY BEST THAT YOU CAN. Our commitment to do good, even amidst controversy, is essential. I often remind myself that praise has no meaning if I am wrong, and scorn no import if I am right. Abraham Lincoln, one of America’s greatest lawyers, said it best:
“If I were to try to read, much less answer, all the attacks made on me, this shop might as well be closed for any other business. I do the very best I know how - the very best I can; and I mean to keep doing so until the end. If the end brings me out all right, what's said against me won't amount to anything. If the end brings me out wrong, ten angels swearing I was right would make no difference.”
4. DON’T BE AFRAID OF CONTROVERSY. At the end of college, I had the opportunity to work for Governor Ronald Reagan. I was at the bottom of the bottom of the totem pole. That was a good position. I saw Reagan in action and spoke with him a few times. He was enthusiastic and optimistic in all that he did. He was not afraid of controversy as long as he felt well centered in his position. Advocacy at times involves controversy. This is not something to shrink from, if in Lincoln’s words, you do the very best that you can to do what is right.
5. BE ACCESSIBLE. Be accessible to those who need your advice – whether paid or unpaid. We must be “present” to those who seek our assistance. This is not always easy amidst the pressures of practice and the balancing of our family, faith and business lives. There have been many times when I would rather be at home than at my desk making follow-up calls. Dean Gordon Schaber advised some two hundred aspiring lawyers on our first day of law school that “the law is a jealous mistress.” Dean Schaber’s observation has been proven to be true. In thirty-six years of law practice I have continually struggled to balance the demands of my professional life with other parts of my life. The balance has at times been quite uneven, but I continue to make a committed effort. The demands of the legal profession are a part of my life.
We are often too busy to even think about tips from others. These 5 tips don’t take long to read, but a lifetime to apply. I am still in that process and I hope that my colleagues can see the wisdom that others shared with me.
© Copyright Michael A. Hackard, 2012. All rights reserved. Hackard Law, 10630 Mather Boulevard, Mather, California 95655