A LESSON FROM ANNIE

Georgia Bar Journal, Vol. 4 No. 4; ©State Bar of Georgia, 1999-2010.  Used by permission, all rights reserved.

When Annie first came to my office she was in tears.  Her husband had died unexpectedly and she was totally unprepared to cope with the years ahead of her.  He had taken care of every detail of her life.  She did not know where bank accounts were located, what bills were paid every month or what taxes were due.  She had been a loving wife and mother but was now alone.  Her two children were grown and had left home.  She had no job and no real skill to offer a prospective employer.  Behind her tears her eyes had the fearful look of a child separated from a parent for the first time.

Nothing had prepared me for this experience.  Sure, I had taken trust and estates in law school and had probated a fair number of wills.  I had developed some comforting words to utter to the survivors and a smooth way of letting them know that everything would be all right.  But this was different.  This client needed more than words – she needed someone to lean on.
Over the next few months we met several times.  At first our meetings began with fearful questions and words of encouragement.  Annie was experiencing difficulty learning the basic activities of independent living.  I thought it was just a matter of time until she moved in with her children.

As a few months passed I began to see a change.  She learned how to balance a checkbook and take care of the household budget.  She found a job with an understanding employer.  The questions became less desperate.  As Annie talked about he the changes in her life I saw new confidence in her eyes.  She was no longer the fragile widow that I first met.

Each visit became something that I warmly anticipated.  She would have some small problem or question.  I would answer the question or give some advice and then we would talk about her children.  She left feeling assured that her problem was handled and I was left with the warm feeling of accomplishment.  Her visits brought a sense of satisfaction that I did not always receive from the rest of my practice.

The visits are not as frequent now.  She has become much more confident and can handle most of the small problems that formerly required a visit with me.  I occasionally receive a nice note asking a question and containing some small bit of news about her children.  Sometimes I feel like a parent whose child has grown up and left the nest.

Neither of my children have expressed a desire to enter the practice of law.  My daughter appears headed for a career as a Methodist minister, and my son is likely to do the same.  When I began to realize that they were not interested in becoming lawyers, I was a little disappointed.  I would not have the opportunity to dispense sage advice on the practice of law to children eager to follow in their father’s footsteps.

However, I realize that my law practice has left some imprint on my children.  Although they won’t become lawyers, they will take the most important element of lawyering with them.  They will possess a desire to help people like Annie.

For many of us the most fulfilling aspect of our practice is ministering to the needs of our clients.  They want our counsel, they want our ear, they want someone to care about them.  Maybe that explains why so many ministers began their college years interested in law and why so many lawyers have considered entering the ministry.

The practice of law can be such fun when we spend more time listening and counseling with our clients.  How I wish that I could discipline myself so that I would only take on as much work as I enjoy doing.

So many of us are looking for greater satisfaction in our practice.  We think that relocation, financial success and prestige can provide it.  I am beginning to believe that the key to satisfaction is held in our own hands.  We just need to spend more time practicing the kind of law we enjoy and less time becoming “successful.”