Last week, I wrote about one of the challenges that I have as a lawyer, which is the failure of many of my clients to understand the nature and extent of the work I do for them. Much of what I do as an attorney is hidden from my clients.
When I represent a client on a personal injury case, if I’m able to get the case settled without having to file a lawsuit, it customarily takes from 18 to 22 months to conclude the case. If it becomes necessary to file a lawsuit, it can take up to five years from the date of the injury to get the case resolved.
During the time that I work on a client’s case, there is not much that I do that my client can see, touch, hear, smell, or taste. At the end of the case when I collect my fee, which can at times be substantial, I want my clients to understand the breadth and scope of the work that I performed for them. So what is it that I can do to help them understand the extent of the work that I do on their behalf?
From the beginning of time, man has been a visual creature. The serpent seduced Eve to bite into the apple in part because it was so visibly appealing. I suppose you could call the serpent the first advertising and marketing expert that ever existed. He crafted a compelling and irresistible message that enticed Eve to defy God.
After he described the apple as being beautiful, delicious, and life changing, he appealed to her pride by saying, “All you have to do is bite into it to be like God.” There is no doubt that the tree and its apples were beautiful and inviting to the eye. But it was her ability to actually see in her imagination the future that the serpent painted for her — a future that promised that she and Adam would have the same powers as their God — that convinced her to act.
I’m sure you’re familiar with the saying, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” That’s what Saint Thomas said after our Lord’s apostles reported to him that Jesus had risen from the dead. Our Lord later reprimanded him for his lack of faith and said, “Blessed are they who have not seen and have believed.” John 20:29
Last month, on January 21, 2018, I celebrated the 35th anniversary of the opening my law practice. I graduated from law school in May 1982, and received my license to practice law in November 1982. Two months later, on January 21, 1983, I rented an office from an established Peoria attorney.
Nine years later (1992), I hired my first associate attorney. At that time, I was 35 years old. The attorney that I hired was 10 years younger than me, and had just graduated from law school.
At the time that I hired the attorney, I had an office manager, two full-time secretaries, a full-time receptionist, and a part-time secretary. Hiring an attorney was a big step for me, and I didn’t feel as though I knew enough about running a business to continue to move forward without some assistance.
The same year that I hired the attorney, I signed a contract with Gerber Business Development Corporation to provide me with coaching on how to properly run and grow my business. I had committed to paying the attorney a large salary and I didn’t want to make any catastrophic mistakes in managing and growing my law firm.
I found out about the Gerber company when I read a book that was written by its founder, Michael Gerber. The title of the book was, The E-Myth: Why Most Small Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It. What Gerber said in his book about small businesses in America hit a raw nerve with me.
I had previously represented several business clients who had done well for a while and then, for one reason or another, had made mistakes that caused their businesses to fail. I had also handled several bankruptcies for individuals who had failed in their own businesses. Many of the businessmen that Gerber wrote about in his book reminded me of my own clients and their failure to succeed in their businesses.
Georgette and I met on August 4, 1978, when we were both 21 years old. We were married in June 1980, while I was on break from law school. Ten months later, in March 1981, we had our first child, Harry. I graduated from law school in May of the following year.
We moved back to Peoria during the summer of 1982. At that time, Georgette was pregnant with our second child, Anna. I started my law practice in January 1983, and Anna was born the following month. We had our third child, Maria, 13 months later, in March 1984. When Maria was born, I was 26 years old.
It was during this period of time that my mom and my sister Colleen started commenting about how I had become too serious and I needed to lighten up. Colleen is a year and a half younger than me, and of my eight sisters, she was the one I was closest to while we were growing up.
When my mom and sister told me that I had become too serious, I hadn’t realized that my behavior had changed from the young, carefree guy who liked to have a good time and tease other people to an older guy who felt overwhelmed by the burdens of life.
But I wasn’t bothered by their comments about my being too serious. To me, that was what responsible adults did — they grew up and did their best to care for and support their families. In some respects, my mom and my sister were correct. My newfound responsibilities made me feel overwhelmed. At times, I felt as though I was doing well just to keep my head above water. Georgette and I had three babies in three years — Maria was born on Harry’s third birthday — and I was doing my best to support my family while managing my law practice.
Now, more than 30 years later, Georgette and I have 13 grandchildren, with three more on the way. I’m still serious, but I’m having more fun now than I’ve had in years. I’ve given myself permission to lighten up and revert to my childhood when I’m around my grandchildren. Their parents sometimes get irritated with me because they think I get their children riled up too much. But that’s OK with me, because I’m finally able to do what my mom and my sister wanted me to do all those years ago.
I recently joined my wife and some of our children at a local theater to see the movie, The Greatest Showman. The movie is a musical about the life of P.T. Barnum. It begins when Barnum is a boy. He is the son of a poor tailor who does work for a wealthy man. The man looks down on Barnum and his father, because of their lower-class status.
Barnum is a fun-loving boy who is infatuated with the wealthy man’s daughter. The man knows that Barnum likes his daughter and makes it clear to Barnum that he’ll never be good enough for her. After that, the daughter is sent to finishing school for several years. While she is away at school, she and Barnum continue to keep in contact by writing letters to each other.
Years later, when the daughter returns home from school, she is reunited with Barnum. They end up getting married and starting a family. After borrowing money from a local bank, Barnum buys an old museum building in downtown Manhattan. He then sets up Barnum’s American Museum, which showcases wax figures.
After struggling to make his new business work, Barnum’s children tell him that instead of featuring wax figures, he needs to have characters who are “alive.” Barnum likes the idea and begins searching for and hiring “freaks” to serve as performers. As he is rounding up his new cast of characters, Barnum sings the unique and mesmerizing song, Come Alive.
As Barnum’s new show gains popularity in New York, a reporter for the New York Herald is highly critical of Barnum and his “freak show.” The reporter’s columns about Barnum and his show stir up trouble among certain people in the community, including the upper-class members of the community.
To enhance his reputation with the upper-class, Barnum convinces Philip Carlisle, a local playwright from a wealthy family, to join him in his business. To raise Barnum’s status, Carlisle arranges a trip to Europe for Barnum and his cast of characters to meet Queen Victoria.
I’ve written before about how I was involved in music during my high school and college years. When I was a senior in high school, I formed a barbershop quartet with three of my friends. I did the same thing in college. While my high school quartet had a limited number of performances, my college quartet performed at several community functions and events.
I’ve always been a big fan of quartets and other a cappella groups. One of the groups that I currently pay attention to is Home Free, an American a cappella singing group that consists of five young men. Home Free got its big break in 2013, when it won a competition on the NBC television show, The Sing-Off. The grand prize that year was $100,000, plus a recording contract with Sony.
Last month, Home Free performed at the Peoria Civic Center. Georgette and I attended the show with some friends. My favorite Home Free song is How Great Thou Art. The music video of the song is posted on YouTube. The video has generated more than 13 million views.
In the video, the group is standing on a hill that is surrounded by several hundred acres of land. The scenery in the background includes cascading slopes and mountains. The beautiful harmony of the group is matched by the gorgeous land that surrounds them. The only building in the video is a small country church, which shows up in a field near the end of the video.
I have the video saved on an iPad that sits on a stand on my bathroom counter. Ordinarily, when I’m in the bathroom in the morning getting ready for work, I use the iPad to play educational, self-improvement, or religious recordings. In the evening while I’m getting ready for bed, I usually use the iPad to listen to music.
My son, Harry, and his wife Kathryn live about five minutes away from where my wife and I live. Because they live so close to us, they’re able to stop by our house to visit on a regular basis. Whenever they stop by for a visit, their two oldest sons, Harry and Liam, immediately start looking around the house for me. Harry is 5 years old and Liam is 3 years old.
It doesn’t happen very often, but every once in a while, I complain directly to God about something that’s bothering me. Last week, my frustration with an ongoing issue finally got to the point that one of my thoughts went up to God in the form of a question: Why can’t you just have an angel appear to me in a dream and tell me what to do? I’m tired of playing these cat and mouse games where I’m always struggling to try to figure out what I should do.
Of course, I immediately felt guilty about addressing God in this manner. Who did I think I was? A prophet? King Solomon? Saint Joseph?
But I get extremely frustrated at times, because while I want to do the right thing, I often feel as though I need specific direction from God. Although I’ve always been good at solving problems, I don’t like it when I have to wait on God to reveal pieces of the puzzle that are needed to solve the problem I’m struggling with.
I’m convinced that one of the primary reasons God operates this way is to teach me the virtues of humility and patience. If He sent an angel to tell me how to solve my problems, I wouldn’t need to learn and practice humility and patience. I would simply wait for instructions from the angel and then take credit for being a special child of God.
Most of us fail to realize that in order to really be humble, we must first suffer humiliations. And we must accept whatever humiliations that come our way with love and gratitude. While humility is the most important of all virtues, the virtue of patience has to be among the top five virtues. Why? Because it’s so difficult to put into practice.
Last week, I wrote about the three grades of patience, which are, to bear difficulties without interior complaint, to use hardships to make progress in virtue, and to desire the cross and afflictions out of love for God and accept them with spiritual joy. It would be impossible to put the three grades of patience into practice if we were to try to do it without God’s assistance.
Last week, I wrote about a couple who was having financial problems because of the husband’s inability to work. Here’s what I wrote at the end of the article:
I’ve been a lawyer for more than 35 years. I’ve dealt with hundreds of couples who, after years of marriage, are facing an unexpected crisis. You would think that after being married for 20 or more years, married couples would be more patient and forgiving of each other than they were when they were newly married. But that’s usually not the case. The fact that they’ve spent years together seems to somehow inhibit their ability to practice real patience and forgiveness toward each other.
Instead of being patient and forgiving, they’re extremely frustrated and angry with each other. Why?
When couples get married, there’s always great hope for the future. With that hope comes the expectation that they will be able to work out all their problems. There is also an expectation that they will someday be able to overcome whatever bad habits or deficiencies they have.
Unfortunately, as each year passes, nothing really changes. Husbands and wives stop making the effort that is required to please each other. It’s almost as if they’ve been through too much together. They’re worn out and exhausted. They’ve run out of patience.
I’ve written before about a saying that is common in the business world: “Familiarity breeds contempt.” This saying stands for the proposition that the more familiar you are with a person, the more contemptible that person becomes.
Over time, as people in the business world become more familiar with each other, their defects and weaknesses become more evident. They are exposed to and become tired of each other’s excuses, bad habits, broken promises, lack of respect, mood swings, angry outbursts, and lack of appreciation. Before long, their patience wears thin, and the slightest infraction causes them to treat each other with contempt.
Last week, I had an appointment with a man — I’ll call him Jim — who hired me eight months ago to represent him on a personal injury case. As usual, Jim brought his wife with him to the appointment. I’ve met with Jim and his wife on four occasions over the past eight months. Jim was injured when a large truck disregarded a stop sign and collided with his vehicle in the middle of an intersection. Because of his injuries, Jim has not been able to return to work. He’s been without an income for eight months.
Jim and his wife are in their late 30s. He’s a skilled tradesman who has been a member of a trade union for more than 20 years. Jim has never had any problem finding work, primarily because he is willing to travel to other states to work, when necessary. Since the accident, Jim’s financial situation has become progressively worse. He has had to borrow money to support his wife and children, and he also recently cashed in part of his retirement, so he could keep up with his bills.
Prior to the accident, Jim’s wife did not work outside the home. A few months after the accident, she felt that she had no other choice but to get a job, so she applied for and secured a job at a local business.
Each of the times I’ve met with Jim, he’s been upbeat and happy. He’s an intelligent, good-natured person who likes to talk and tell stories. His wife has come to all his appointments and has always been courteous and friendly — until last week.
Last week, when I entered the conference room to meet with them, Jim was the same as he’s always been, but his wife was quiet and had an angry look on her face. Her demeanor indicated to me that she and Jim either argued on the way to my office, or she was fed up with his situation.
I talked to Jim about his condition and he indicated to me that he was still receiving physical therapy three times a week. He said that he probably wasn’t going to be able to return to work for at least another 10 to 12 months. He told me that before the accident, he worked at the same trade for 20 years.
Have you ever heard of the practice of using canaries in coal mines to alert coal miners of danger? Canaries are small songbirds that were first bred and used as domestic pets in the 17th century. Because they are more sensitive than humans to toxic gases (such as methane and carbon monoxide), canaries were, at one time, routinely used by coal miners as early warning devices that danger was imminent.
By placing caged canaries in various sections of a coal mine, workers knew they were in danger when a canary stopped singing or dropped dead. If such an event occurred, the miners knew they needed to immediately evacuate the mine, because of dangerous levels of toxic gases that could cause an explosion or cause the minors to die of suffocation (because of lack of oxygen).
Although canaries are no longer used in coal mines, they are one of the most popular household pets for people who want to own a bird that can sing. Canaries have been used extensively by researchers seeking to discover how some birds are able to sing while most others lack the same ability.
As I was sitting in the adoration chapel thinking about Easter Sunday and our Lord’s resurrection from the dead, I thought about the canaries in the coal mines.
The celebration of Easter starts with the Easter Vigil Mass which takes place after nightfall on Holy Saturday. It consists of four parts: Service of the Light, Liturgy of the Word, Liturgy of Baptism, and Liturgy of the Eucharist. During the early years of the Church, the night before Easter was celebrated by the illumination of the churches and in some cases, the illumination of entire cities.
It is in Baptism that a person’s soul is cleansed of all sin and sanctified in Christ. The light of Christ illuminates the soul with sanctifying grace. In addition, the mind and the will of a newly baptized person are also illuminated with sanctifying grace.
Earlier this year a prison inmate confessed to killing a female correctional officer inside the chapel of a prison in the state of Washington. At the time of the killing, the inmate, Byron Scherf, was serving a life sentence as a “three-strikes” offender for prior rape convictions.
In his videotaped confession, Scherf told detectives that he didn’t like the way that Officer Jayme Biendl had talked to him. He said, “I became very angry … and the more that ran through my mind the madder I got. I got to the point where I knew I was going to kill her.” He attacked Biendl from behind and strangled her with a cable that he had removed from an amplifier.
When I initially read about the incident, I thought about the governor of Illinois, Richard Quinn. At that time, Quinn was still “undecided” as to whether he was going to sign legislation banning the death penalty in Illinois. He subsequently signed the legislation after making the following comments to the press:
I have concluded, after looking at all the information that I have received, that it is impossible to create a perfect system – one that is free of all mistakes…. I am deeply concerned by the possibility of an innocent person being executed.
If I had been one of the reporters who was present when Quinn made his comments I would have asked him the following question: “I understand your concerns that there are not adequate safeguards in place to guarantee that an innocent man or woman will not be put to death, but where is your concern for the tens of thousands of unborn children who are killed every year in Illinois as a result of being given the death penalty by their mothers and doctors?”
Like most politicians, Governor Quinn would have most likely avoided answering the question by saying, “While I’m personally opposed to abortion, I don’t think I have the right to impose my personal beliefs on others.” This would be said despite the fact that he imposed his personal beliefs on others by signing legislation that prohibited the imposition of the death penalty, regardless of the circumstances.
Last Saturday (April 2nd) my parents, Carl and Kathryn Williams, celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. My sister and her husband, Colleen and Bill Brannon, organized a Mass and party for them. The people in attendance at the party were my parents, their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and some of their friends and relatives.
It all started on April 2, 1951, when they were married. They had their first child on January 14, 1952, and their last child on April 29, 1975. In all, my parents had 17 children, one of whom died at the age of 13 months. Sixteen children are still living, ranging in ages from 35 to 59 years old.
In the hall where we had the dinner, a microphone was set up so that each of the 16 children could say something to honor my parents, or to share some personal experience about what it was like growing up in such a large family. As usual, I ended up talking more than all of my brothers and sisters combined. (I think they dread it whenever I take possession of the microphone.)
When it was my turn to talk, I told everyone that I had come up with a different word for each member of the family. Each word was meant to summarize the primary quality or trait of each individual family member. After I announced the word for each person, I told one or more stories that explained why the word applied to the person. You can see the words I came up with inside the box on this page.
Because of space limitations, I can’t share everything I said with you, but I do want to tell you about the short life of my younger sister Kathryn Mary and how God blessed our family with certain children who had traits that: (1) helped my parents deal with the difficulties that came up with Kathryn; and (2) helped our family to heal after her death.
When my daughter Mary Rose was 15 years old (4 years ago), Georgette enrolled her in a couple of classes at Illinois Central College. At that time, I bought her a cell phone so she would be able to call from school if she needed anything. The first voicemail message she recorded for callers to listen to when she wasn’t available to answer the phone went something like this:
Hi this is Mary Rose. I’m sorry I missed your call. Please leave a message after the tone, and if you’re Zac Efron, please keep calling back until you reach me.
If you’re not familiar with Zac Efron, he was the leading teenage male actor in the three High School Musical movies put out by Disney. The first time I heard Mary’s message was when I called her telephone number and she wasn’t available to answer. As soon as I heard the message, I knew exactly what to say. I changed my voice to sound like a young teenage movie star and left the following message:
Um, this is Zac Efron calling. I’m in Europe right now enjoying the sights. Wish you were here with me. When I get back in the states, I’ll give you a call. I heard you have a really cool dad. I hope you give him the love and respect he deserves. In fact, you should do everything he tells you to do. Luv ya baby. Talk to you later.
The following week I left a few more messages on Mary’s voicemail from Zac. Then I decided to get more creative, so I changed my voice to an older man and left this message for her:
Hello Mary, this is Pope Benedict the 16th. I talked to your dad last week about some important theological issues that I needed his advice on. I hope you realize how fortunate you are to have such a loving and caring father. May I remind you that the 4th commandment requires that you honor your father and your mother? You are very blessed to have such wonderful parents. Don’t forget to always show appreciation for what they do for you.