Is It Senior-Lawyer Wisdom or Just Weariness?

By | Jun.16.14 | Curmudgeon's Perspective, Daily Dispatch, Law Practice Management, People Management

Otto Sorts

Oh, I admit I was a little hard on my colleagues, but in my defense, their idea was an old one we tried years ago to no avail.

Still, I guess they felt I was a bit harsh in the process of shooting it down (again), because when I left the room, I overheard one of the younger guys comment, “Well, isn’t he the cranky old bastard!”

Style points aside, how do you determine whether your experience is relevant and your so-called wisdom needed? Maybe you’re just tired of fighting the same old battles. At what point is our resistance more about our own weariness than about the idea actually being a bad one?

One of the compensations for getting old and worn-down is the insight I can offer from the experiences I have had. I think I have learned from my victories as well as my defeats. (I like to believe there have been more of the former than the latter.) And in every single instance I’ve learned something. Sometimes more than others!

It’s a universal experience as the years progress. In witness, Jackson Browne sang, “Doctor, my eyes. Tell me what is wrong./Was I unwise to leave them open for so long?” And Samuel Johnson is supposed to have considered remarriage the “ultimate triumph of hope over experience.”

Have I, too, seen too much to be able to try something new again? Have I experienced so much that I can only see the possibility of failure? Why not take a risk? Why not try something, even if it didn’t work so well last time?

Get a Grip, Grumpy

So, how can I be more open to risk again? First, I think I need to be more critical of my own experiences — and look realistically at what I’ve done and what the circumstances and my frame of mind were at the time. I remember not being afraid to fail. Now, I feel more tentative, or less willing to stick my neck out. I can fix that. After all, I’ve been bloodied before and survived. I also work with a great team that will support me — people I can trust to keep me from getting too far astray.

Second, I need to share my “wisdom” in ways that are easier for the youngsters to hear. Pull more, push less. Give others the benefit of the doubt and let them take the leaps they aren’t afraid to try. Then when it works, make sure they get the credit. And if it fails, be willing to step in and share the pain.

Lastly, I shouldn’t allow my years of experience to weigh me down. I’ll try a little attitude adjustment and be more positive. Hey, why not enjoy things rather than carp about them? Nobody likes grumpy old bastards, and I don’t like being one. I’m going to reread “The Power of Positive Thinking.” See the sunshine, not the shade. Even eat more bran, if that’s what it takes.

It’s time, once again, to let hope triumph over experience.

Otto Sorts has been reading law since before Martindale met Hubbell. Of Counsel at a large corporate firm that prefers to remain anonymous, Otto is a respected attorney and champion of the grand tradition of the law. He is, however, suspicious of “new-fangled” management ideas and anyone who calls the profession the legal “industry.” When he gets really cranky about something he blogs here at Attorney at Work.


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3 Responses to “Is It Senior-Lawyer Wisdom or Just Weariness?”

  1. Chris Hargreaves
    16 June 2014 at 6:58 am #

    Great article Otto. There is a constant tension between the well settled and risk averse, and the younger lawyers wanting to spread their wings. Wisdom obtained through hard knocks has its place (and not a small one) but I always encourage older partners to remember their own formative years – many successful firms were formed on the back of risks taken by the partners who now would never condone their younger lawyers taking those exact same risks.

    Let us know if the bran helps….

  2. Mike O'Horo
    16 June 2014 at 9:42 am #

    If Otto truly seeks an attitude change, he’d be well served to begin by accepting that a $160 billion business is an industry, and abandon his quaint but outdated insistence on it still being called a profession. When law firms annually self-report revenue, growth, and profits per partner to a trade publication for bragging rights and competitive purposes, it’s long past time to drop the pretense.

  3. CJ Stevens
    15 September 2014 at 1:13 pm #

    I was 20 years older than my law school classmates. Obviously, I had more life experience (and undergrad education) in relationship issues: personal and business, boss and employee, young Jedi v. grey-hair experience. Perhaps this senior lawyer hears the same questions year after year. Perhaps he’s honed his answers from rambling to concise. Perhaps he’d rather impart information than listen to his own mellifluous voice. Perhaps the young attorneys lack knowledge of verbal and nonverbal clues. In any event, they need to learn that substance trumps style. And, perhaps, the senior attorney could literally write a book for in-house newbies.