September

February 24, 2018

I’ll Believe It When I See It

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

February 17, 2018

The Challenge of Being in a Service Business

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.

February 10, 2018

The Death of a Special Christ-Like Priest

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.

February 3, 2018

A Dream & The Greatest Showman

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.

January 27, 2018

Why is That Church in a Music Video?

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.

January 20, 2018

Why Is It So Hard To Practice Patience?

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.

January 13, 2018

The Difficulties That Arise After Years of Marriage

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.

January 6, 2018

Something Married Couples Face After Years of Marriage

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.

September 24, 2011

Job Creation & The Big Bang Theory

The year was 1966.  I was 9 years old and had just started the fourth grade at St. Mark’s grade school in Peoria.  When my mom questioned me about what school supplies I needed, I asked her to buy me a mechanical pencil (refillable lead pencil).  I had asked for a mechanical pencil in the past, but was told that I didn’t need one.  When my mom returned from the store, she surprised me with a new mechanical pencil.

A couple of weeks ago I stopped at OfficeMax to pick up a couple of items for my office and there was a large display of different types of pens and pencils.  Almost every time I walk into a megastore, such as OfficeMax, Wal-Mart or Lowe’s, I am (again) amazed at the massive floor space that is lined with huge shelving units that are stocked with thousands of everyday items that we all take for granted.  How did all of the products on those shelves come into existence?

There’s a short essay with the title of “I, Pencil” that was written in 1958 by Leonard E. Read (1898–1983).  Although Read was the author of 29 books and hundreds of essays, his most famous essay was “I, Pencil.”   The essay gives a glimpse of what it takes to bring a simple wooden pencil into existence.  It should be required reading for all eighth grade, high school, and college students.

The essay starts with a pencil talking (in the first person) about what goes into the making of all pencils:

I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove.  In fact, if you can understand me – no, that’s too much to ask of anyone – if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.   I have a profound lesson to teach.  And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because – well, because I am seemingly so simple.

September 17, 2011

An Endangered Species: Piggy Banks

When I was growing up in the 1960’s, it was a common practice to give a young boy or girl a piggy bank as a birthday present.  Parents routinely gave piggy banks to their children and then repeatedly reminded them to “put your money in your bank.”  Ask any boy or girl today what a piggy bank is and the only response you’ll get will most likely be a blank stare.  Of course, they would be able to give you a detailed description of Lady Gaga and tell you what an iPad is, but they wouldn’t have a clue as to what a piggy bank is.

Ask that same boy or girl to define money and the response would most likely be: “it’s something you buy things with.”  Ask an adult what money is and he or she would have trouble giving you an acceptable definition.

The dictionary defines money as “something generally accepted as a medium of exchange, a measure of value, or a means of payment as officially coined or stamped metal currency, money of account, or paper money.”

Re-read that last sentence and tell me if you’re satisfied with the definition.  Do you now have a clear understanding of what money really is?  If not, can you come up with a better definition?

For a country as advanced as the United States, the lack of knowledge and understanding among its citizens about money is appalling.  Ask 10 people to define money and you’ll get 10 different abstract definitions.  Most people define money as the colored paper and metal coins that they have in their pockets or purses.  Some use more sophisticated ways of defining money by using the “medium of exchange” terminology.

If most Americans don’t have a clear understanding of what money really is, how can they be expected to properly save it, manage it, spend it, and acquire more of it? 

Here’s my definition of money:

September 10, 2011

Predicting The Future

In the movie Back To The Future Part II, the main character, Marty McFly, travels 30 years into the future with scientist, Dr. Emmett “Doc” Brown.  The movie starts with Doc returning from the year 2015 to 1985 and notifying Marty (who at that time is 17 years old and in high school) that they have to go “back to the future” to help Marty’s (future) son. 

Since Doc has already seen what happens in the future, he is able to program his time machine to arrive in the year 2015 before Marty’s son is recruited by some bullies to participate in a crime.  Once they arrive, Marty and Doc are able to carry out their plan to keep Marty’s future son from committing the crime.

Can you imagine having that kind of power?  The power to know what is going to happen in the future, climb into a time machine, and then travel into the future to do whatever is necessary to avoid a catastrophic event?

Last week I wrote about the importance of having a mentor.  I pointed out that one of the advantages of working with a mentor is that he’s “been there, done that” and can use his real life experiences to guide you in the areas where you do not have any experience.

In some ways a mentor, who has already travelled down the road you’re currently travelling on, has a sense of what lies ahead in your future.  He won’t be able to give you exact details of what’s going to happen, but in some situations, he can get pretty close to predicting (and preparing you for) the future.  However, since he does not have specific knowledge of the future, he can only base his advice and guidance on his past experience, knowledge, and training.

Although there is no human on earth who can predict the future, we know of at least one angel who did, in fact, predict the future.  The angel appeared to a young teenage girl by the name of Mary and told her exactly what was going to happen to her in the future.  St. Luke explained how this happened in his gospel (Chapter 1: 26-38):

September 3, 2011

Lighting Up The Path Ahead

When I started my law practice, I followed the advice that was given in the book, How To Open Up Your Own Law Practice Without Missing A Meal.  The book recommended that I walk into other lawyers’ offices (without an appointment) and ask the lawyers if they had an extra office that was available for rent.  If there was an office available, the book instructed that I then ask if I could trade my research and writing skills for rent.  The book further advised that for those lawyers who did not have an office to rent, I was to ask them: (1) if they had any research and writing work for me to do for an agreed-upon hourly rate, and (2) if they would be willing to refer clients to me that they didn’t want.

I did exactly as the book instructed.  I dressed up in a suit and drove downtown to the First National Bank building where my dad’s lawyer’s office was located.  He was the first lawyer I talked to.  He didn’t have any desire to rent an office to me; however, he referred me to another lawyer in the building (Jack Boos) who didn’t have an extra office, but was willing to let me follow him around and sit in on appointments to get a “feel” for what it was like to operate a private law practice.

I divided up my time between following the lawyer around and asking other lawyers in the downtown area if they would rent an office to me.  After a couple of weeks of talking to lawyers, I found a very generous and good-hearted Catholic attorney, John Mathers, who was willing to do exactly what the book had recommended – allow me to use one of his offices in exchange for legal research and writing services.

I quickly realized that law school had been a waste of time.  The three years I spent there didn’t prepare me for the real world.  Although I had taken classes in contract law, property law, criminal law, etc., there was very little training on how to run and operate a successful law practice.  My feeling at the time was that law school should consist of one year of intense study and then two years of actual practice under the direction of one or more mentors.  I still feel that way.

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