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    President's Message

    Bar president asks lawyers to recall why they chose this profession and challenges lawyers to stop focusing on the negative, to look at the big picture, and to listen to what your own words say about you.

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    Wisconsin LawyerWisconsin Lawyer
    Vol. 78, No. 9, September 2005

    Stop. Look. Listen.

    Bar president asks lawyers to recall why they chose this profession and challenges lawyers to stop focusing on the negative, to look at the big picture, and to listen to what your own words say about you.

    by D. Michael Guerin

    D. Michael Guerin"You can get all mad, flipping the finger to everyone, banging on the dashboard. Or you [can] put on your favorite CD ... and sing along with the guitar solo. Either way you're going to end up at the same place." - Steve Carey

    In the last two years, since my nomination to run for the office of State Bar president, I have had an opportunity to speak to many groups across the state - local bar associations, conference attendees, incoming law students, and new lawyers. As I expected, the opinions held by these people as to what the State Bar should be doing are as diverse as the people themselves. What I did not expect, however, was the number of disgruntled lawyers who are dissatisfied with their places in the profession.

    You're probably expecting me to follow that comment with a pep talk about how being a lawyer is one of the greatest and most noble professions in the world (I believe it is) and we should be honored to be lawyers. (I believe we should.) Not today. Today, I am issuing a challenge to every Wisconsin lawyer: Stop. Look. Listen.

    Stop focusing on the negative. On any given day any one of us could find fault with colleagues, staff, clients, opposing counsel, the court system, the Bar, or anyone else who deigns to cross our paths. But what purpose does that really serve? Instead, try focusing on what's good in your career - including the fact that you have a career.

    Look at the big picture. Let's face it - as much as we talk about how long and hard we work, being a lawyer is not the most difficult job in the world. We're not performing brain surgery, handling nitroglycerin, or attempting to catch a Brett Favre pass. Most of us are able to get up in the morning, get dressed, get into our cars, drive to work, and fulfill our responsibilities to our clients. Sadly, some Wisconsin lawyers are unable to accomplish this seemingly mundane feat.

    In particular, I think of my friend and partner, Jeff Kaufman, a brilliant lawyer stricken with ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) at age 34. In the almost 16 years since his diagnosis, Jeff, with the help of his incredible wife Jan, has continued to live with ALS, to guide four children into young adulthood, and to inspire his family, friends, and even strangers to raise funds for ALS research. Still, Jeff is unable to do what he planned to do, what most of us do everyday - he cannot practice law. What he wouldn't give to have the problems most of us complain of everyday.

    Listen to what your own words and the words of others are saying about you. Do you treat your clients, staff, opposing counsel, court clerks, and others with respect? Or do you convey the impression that what you say and do is the most important thing because you are "the lawyer"? Yes, what we do is important, but that shouldn't make us feel self-important. We should take our clients' problems seriously, but not ourselves.

    I truly believe it is important for all of us on occasion to stop and consider how fortunate we are. None of us became lawyers so we could complain about surcharges or fees or lobbying efforts. We became lawyers so we could seek justice, represent people who needed our help, be a part of the business world, or serve our government - and maybe make a little money along the way. Our early aspirations and inspirations should be embraced, not forgotten.

    I recognize that these words will ruffle more than a few feathers. Who is Mike Guerin to tell anyone what to do or how to feel? Well, I am a man who has learned, in more than 30 years of law practice, that no matter how big my problems and frustrations may seem to be, there is always someone else who wishes he or she had those problems. No matter how frustrated I may be by a case that's not going my way, there are men and women out there who may wish they could be in that case, fighting those battles.

    I'm sure many of you are still shaking your heads, insistent that change is necessary, that the Bar's position on certain issues is dead wrong, and that the Bar isn't doing enough to promote your interests. If that is the case, then do something about it. Contact your representative on the Board of Governors to state your position on the many issues facing the Bar. Run for office in your local or State Bar association. Run for government office.

    On the other hand, some things simply cannot be changed. Attorneys will always have differing interests, certain practice areas will always be deemed more glamorous in the public eye, and certain lawyers will always believe the Bar treats them like second-class citizens, no matter how many efforts are made to seek their input and participation. To those who are unable or unwilling to accept this statement as truth, I urge you to reread the quote that began this article. Steve Carey, another ALS patient, was talking about how he approached his debilitating disease, crediting his mindset to his many years of being stuck in traffic jams. In essence, he was saying that when faced with something we cannot change, we have two choices: we can either let our frustration and anger overwhelm our rational thought, or we can make peace with our situation and enjoy everything we do have.

    So I urge you: Stop. Look. Listen. If somewhere along the way you have lost sight of the aspirations and inspirations you had as a law student, maybe it's time to reassess your professional goals. Consider carefully your place as a lawyer. Recognize the good you and other lawyers do in the Bar, in the community, and in your lives. My hunch is that eventually most of you will realize that being a Wisconsin lawyer is a very good life.