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    Watch Out for Whitecaps Ahead to Avoid Rough Water

    Avoid the rough water, view clients’ legal matters more broadly, and seek out new tools that help you see the distant waves.

    Kevin J. Palmersheim

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    wavesI recently visited a friend in Seattle who showed me around the beautiful area he retired to a few years ago. He loves the area’s energy and attitude, the mild winters, and the hiking trails. He also specifically requested I not reveal how much sunnier Seattle is than we Wisconsinites are led to believe, which is why I am including that fact in the first paragraph.

    My buddy also is a sailboater, and he explained a problem he observes with so many weekend water warriors. They are proficient in all of the technical sailing skills, but they don’t look ahead and watch the wind coming over the waves. By looking ahead, they could see the water whitecapping in the distance, and recognize that rough water is coming.

    Kevin J. Palmersheimcom palmersheim hplawoffice Kevin J. Palmersheim, U.W. 1992, practices business law with Haley Palmersheim S.C., Madison.

    His revelation triggered an immediate reaction on my part, which was: “Dammit, Rick! Would you shut up about how great retirement is – I’ve got a couple decades to go, not to mention another Wisconsin winter looming!” However, my second response was more practical for this column. I told Rick that his boating observation was similar to a problem I see with the practice of law.

    Too many lawyers focus narrowly on their client matters. They are well-educated and proficient in the details, but they don’t look ahead to see how individual legal maneuvers or advice may get swamped in the big picture. Furthermore, these technical experts often are slow to adapt or accept different technologies and resources and simply keep their hand on the rudder and their eyes on the mainsail like they learned in their first lessons.

    New lawyers often fall into this category of viewing legal issues narrowly. They often feel comfortable with doing research, drafting documents, and giving clients or supervising lawyers practical answers to specific legal questions, but recent graduates don’t always have the experience to glance at the horizon to see what’s coming and how it could affect the client. The best way to change those habits and become more well-rounded is to either force a peek at the water ahead, or get thrown in and feel the water first-hand (which, coincidentally, is Rick’s approach to teaching me to sail).

    Too many lawyers don’t look ahead to see how individual legal maneuvers or advice may get swamped in the big picture.

    Yet, this type of task-oriented tunnel vision is not limited to new attorneys. Our profession’s specialization means that many really smart attorneys become experts on one or two technical aspects of the law, but they never quite acquire the ability to advise clients on the best course for smooth sailing and how to avoid capsizing. Furthermore, attorneys often are slow to adapt to new technologies or search out new ways to provide legal services they have performed in the same manner for years.

    Avoid the rough water, view clients’ legal matters more broadly, and seek out new tools that help you see the distant waves. If by doing so you achieve smooth sailing into retirement, feel free to visit me in Seattle, where I’ll be the happy guy sunning myself on the bow of a schooner, with my pal Rick in the water tethered to a dinghy.