A long-time client and I sat reminiscing recently, talking about working together for many years. I had just told him about my upcoming retirement, and that started a discussion about the moments we had shared as lawyer and client and as friends. He asked me about the most important choice I had made in my life. I’m sure he was thinking that I would say that the most important choice was my decision to leave Wisconsin and attend law school on the East Coast, or maybe my decision to come back to Wisconsin to practice some 40 years ago.
But I told him the choices that were most important to me weren’t my choices; they were choices by others. The most important choice for me, I told him, was that of my wife, Gail, to marry me. For the 40 years I have spent back in Wisconsin, that choice has been the reason I am who I am and where I am.
And the choices that were crucial to my career as a Wisconsin lawyer were also choices that others made. The choice my father made in asking me to join his small-town law practice was a critical one. Sure, it was a mutual decision, but it was his decision in the first place, his urging, that steered me back home.
Another choice important to my legal career was the choice that a mid-size, regional law firm made to reach out and ask me to merge our practices. I couldn’t have chosen a better relationship. But it wasn’t my choice that made it happen; it was the choice of my partners.
My practice was successful and
satisfying because of the clients
who chose me to help with their
most important business and
At the heart of a law practice is another choice: clients’ choosing who will represent them. We can market and work hard to build a practice, but that practice depends in the first instance on a crucial choice, the client’s choosing us as their counsel. My practice was successful and satisfying because of the clients who chose me to help with their most important business and personal decisions.
Retirement after 40 years of practice gets you thinking, gets you reminiscing about how it happened and how it worked out. (And it gets you thinking, as a famous entertainer once put it, that “it might have been otherwise.”) I am thankful for the important choices that framed my life and career, thankful for the opportunities that those choices presented, thankful for the key moments in my life when others chose me.
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I opened the newspaper and saw an ad for a lobster and clam bake at a local restaurant and noticed, to my surprise, that I was listed as the guest chef. The restaurant, owned by friends and clients, was a favorite of mine and was a well-known destination for gourmet food. One of the owners, a CIA-trained chef, had talked to me several months before to pick my brain about New England-style clam bakes, knowing that I was familiar with them from living in Boston. We talked through how a clam bake is done and then did a trial run for about a dozen friends and staff, flying in lobsters, clams, and seaweed from Maine.
As a thank-you for helping with the planning, the chef invited me to the upcoming lobster and clam bake at the restaurant. But he did not tell me about being guest chef. I learned about it when I saw the newspaper ad. I frequently cook at home, but cooking for a crowd in a restaurant is a whole different experience. Being in a professional kitchen, working alongside a well-known chef and well-trained staff, being at the center of what is best described as organized chaos, was an experience of a lifetime.
William H. Thedinga, Weld Riley S.C., Eau Claire.
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