My grandmother was a wise woman. She taught me early on that the words you will gain most benefit from during life are please, excuse me, no ma’am/sir, yes ma’am/sir, and thank-you. She believed that kind words would get you further in life than words of scorn.
Roy B. Evans, U.W. 1979, maintains a solo practice in Milwaukee, focusing in business development and contract law.
In my life and law practice, I try to use these words as often as possible. I use them with clients as well as in everyday interactions with other people I meet, especially court clerks and court staff. Sometimes being a bailiff or court clerk can seem like a thankless job.
In small-claims court, being bombarded with lawyers’ demands, dealing with missing paperwork, and being the target of misdirected anger from people summoned to contest their issues can make it seem as if everybody is consumed with and only cares about their own outcomes and satisfactions.
At a recent small-claims court hearing, my case was one of the last to be called. As I passed the clerk, she called me over and said, “your kind thank-you really made my day.” I was somewhat taken aback but not surprised; my grandmother’s advice has always taught me that sometimes the simple things we take for granted get overlooked. The clerk’s comments to me had a reciprocal effect and helped to make my day as well.
So if I were to pass on any advice to young attorneys looking to make the process of practicing law easier and more pleasant, I would tell them to practice being nice and to say please and thank-you as often as possible. And it’s not necessarily always about what you say. It’s more about how you affect the feelings of someone who is trying to help. They may never see you again or even remember what it was you said to them but, believe me, they will remember how you made them feel when you said it.
My grandmother’s advice is time tested and golden. It works for me.
Meet Our Contributors
What is one of the most important lessons you’re learned about law practice?
Real life is no hypothetical. When I graduated from law school, a wise professor gave me some sound advice. She told me that as you go out into the world to practice law, just remember that “in real life there are no hypotheticals.” I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I was glad to have survived the challenges of law school and eager to get out and make my mark on the world.
As a recent graduate full of time-tested hypotheticals about “what if,” I didn’t fully understand or appreciate the real-life practical application of the reality of “what is.” In law school, reading case law and discussing the ramifications of decisions determined long ago provided me with letter-of-the-law principles to guide me through difficult decisions that required sound reasoning and fair thought.
After 40 years of law practice, I can honestly say that I have never had the experience of a real-life hypothetical. For instance, in criminal law you are taught to understand the nuances of the criminal justice process and to know the rights of your clients so that you can provide them with the legal representation required by your sworn commitment to fairness and justice. But, in real life, hypotheticals do in fact have their limitations when they are suddenly turned into reality.
My criminal law class did not prepare me for the trauma of knowing a client is innocent but, being unable to persuade the weight of the case in my favor, being left with a “guilty on all charges” verdict that has real-life consequences: not only for the client but for all those things connected to him or her as well. No hypothetical can prepare you for the pain in the pit of your stomach upon hearing the verdict after you have called on all your training and knowledge to defend your client to no avail. Hypotheticals never prepare you for the anguished look on your client’s face when the verdict is read.
Classroom hypotheticals don’t prepare you to understand the cries of anguish of a mother whose child is going to prison, or a child who might never again see their parent, or a wife who has no other means of support for her family and who will now have to travel hundreds of miles just to visit an incarcerated loved one. The innocence of time lost never to be reclaimed is the real crime and the big difference between a “what if” hypothetical and the reality of life’s “what is.”
Roy B. Evans, Roy B. Evans Attorney at Law, Milwaukee.
Become a contributor! Are you working on an interesting case? Have a practice tip to share? There are several ways to contribute to Wisconsin Lawyer. To discuss a topic idea, contact Managing Editor Karlé Lester at (800) 444-9404, ext. 6127, or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Check out our writing and submission guidelines.