The first lawyer I ever heard my father speak of was Andy Blair.
Mr. Blair was a hard working lawyer who had climbed his way up from his small town roots. My father admired hard work as much as most any other virtue, and he had deep admiration for this lawyer who had come so far through his own grit and determination.
But when I was in my second year of law school, a critical juncture in the life of an aspiring lawyer, I found out my father admired Mr. Blair for much more than that.
When I was home for the Christmas holiday that year, my father sat me down one cold afternoon to talk about what kind of lawyer I was going to be. It was not about the substantive area of the law in which I should practice, but about what kind of person I was going to be as a lawyer.
My father was a high school graduate, but he was a keen observer of life, and he understood the value of education. He believed deeply we all have a duty to serve others. His life experience was that a lawyer had a unique skill set, in the true sense of the phrase. As a consequence of that unique skill set, he believed, a lawyer had a unique responsibility to serve.
That afternoon my father told me about three lawyers he admired, lawyers who understood the importance of service, and using their lawyer skills in that service. One of those lawyers was Andrew L. Blair.
What these three lawyers had in common was they were dedicated to their family, their faith, their community, and their profession.
My father said: that’s the kind of lawyer I needed to be.
Revealingly, nothing was mentioned about how much money each of these lawyers made.
If you have ever plowed a field or a garden, as you may be doing in this planting season, you know that to plow a straight row you have to pick out a mark and plow to it.
At an important juncture in my career, my father gave to me concrete examples of what that mark should be.
“What is essential in life is invisible to the eye,” Antoine De Saint Etupery said. In a profession in which your career and the accumulation of things can overtake you, my father wanted me to know what really mattered most. Life’s most abundant riches lay in those things you cannot see.
I have had many mentors in my legal career: lawyers, judges, and professors who have taught me so much about what a lawyer really should aspire to be. But I have always considered it my life’s sweetest irony that my high school graduate father had, for me, the clearest, deepest, and most comprehensive understanding of what kind of lawyer I should be. (My faults and shortcomings, alas, are entirely my own.)
What I’ve learned about life on the way to the courthouse is this: whatever you do, your career has to have a purpose beyond yourself. The tangible fruits of your labor are a thing. And an important thing. But they are just not the thing.
A lesson I learned from my life’s greatest teacher, who would have made a pretty good lawyer himself.