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.

December 31, 2011

Habit Gravity & Escape Velocity

Georgette and I still have three daughters living at home with us – Mary (20), Christine (17), and Teresa (15).  Although Georgette has asked all three of the girls to make their beds every morning, only one has consistently complied with her request.  The other two daughters have expressed various reasons (excuses) as to why they can’t seem get the job done every day, such as, “I don’t have the time” or “I keep forgetting.”

On January 1st of last year (2011), I announced to one of the non-compliant daughters that her New Year’s resolution was to make her bed every morning immediately after she woke up.  After I told her about her resolution, she calmly said, “Um, Dad…  I hate to disappoint you, but that’s not how New Year’s resolutions are supposed to work.  Just because you think up a resolution for me doesn’t automatically make it my resolution.”

I quickly responded, “Yes I know that, but since I have a deep sense of awareness about what your true lifetime desires are, I know that you really desire to please your mother by making your bed every morning.  If it’s too difficult of a task for you, I’ll be glad to help you if you want me to.”

Unfortunately, she wasn’t impressed with my deep sense of awareness about her desires, so she said, “It’ll be interesting to see how your New Year’s resolution works out for me.”

For about a month after that, on the mornings I was still at home when she woke up, I went into her bedroom and started making her bed in front of her while telling her I was helping her keep her resolution.  Each time I did that, she insisted she didn’t need any help, and then proceeded to help me make the bed.  There were a couple of mornings when I peeked into her bedroom and she wasn’t in there, so I made the bed before she returned to her room.

December 24, 2011

The Divine Apology

I grew up in the country in a family neighborhood that included seven families.  My grandparents lived next door to my parents, and all of the other families in the neighborhood were made up of my aunts, uncles, and cousins.  One of the uncles was my dad’s brother, Bill Williams.  His house was located next to a wooded area where he would sometimes hunt for rabbits and quail.  Uncle Bill loved hunting so much, he set up a little “gun shop” in his basement where he could re-fill his own shotgun shells.

To this day I don’t know how he did it, but during my teenage years, Uncle Bill routinely talked me and my cousins into doing work around his house in exchange for the “privilege” of using his shotguns (for about ten minutes at a time) to shoot at black birds that would fly over the trees in the woods every evening.  After we were done shooting, he would convince us to go into his shop and re-fill the shotgun shells that we used.  He was a master at getting us to do things for him.

On one occasion when Uncle Bill was going to allow us to shoot his 22 caliber rifle, my dad warned me about the distance a bullet could travel.  Unlike the buckshot that was used in shotgun shells, a rifle bullet could travel more than a mile when it was shot into the air.  The danger of shooting a bullet into the air was that there was always a possibility that it could hit someone when it finally came down from the sky.

I thought about my dad’s warning earlier this week when I read about the death of a fifteen year old Amish girl in Fredericksburg, Ohio.  The girl, Rachel Yoder, was shot in the head and killed while she was driving home from a Christmas party in a horse-drawn buggy.

The bullet that pierced through her skull came from a rifle that was shot into the air from a mile and a half away by a man who had been cleaning his gun.  The man contacted the local sheriff’s office after he heard the news about the death of the girl.  In the article that I read about the shooting, the local county sheriff was quoted as saying, “In all probability, it looks like an accidental shooting.”

December 17, 2011

I Owe You What?

Two weeks ago in my article, The Wrong Way To Apologize, I gave you four examples of apologies that, in my opinion, were not genuine apologies.  In last week’s article, A Genuine Apology, I told you about a recent experience I had where I ended up apologizing to a hotel clerk for the way I treated her after she was not able to fulfill a commitment that was made to me by another employee of the hotel.

As a reminder, here are the details of the apology I wrote about last week:

After asking my guardian angel and the clerk’s guardian angel to help me do and say the right things, I walked over to the clerk and said, “I owe you an apology.” She looked at me with a puzzled look on her face.  At that point, I said, “I checked in last night…”  She cut me off and said, “Yes, I remember you.  Did they get everything straightened out for you today?”  She glared at me with an angry look on her face.  I responded, “Yes, everything got worked out, and I owe you an apology.” She was still glaring at me so I continued, “I’m sorry for the way I behaved last night.  I had no right to take out my frustrations on you.  During the entire time you were dealing with me, you were courteous and professional.  You’re the type of person any business owner would love to have as an employee.”

The look on her face completely changed and she said, “Oh, that’s ok, don’t worry about it.  I’ve had customers who were worse than you.”  I responded, “No, it’s not ok.  I’m sorry for the way I treated you.” As she looked at me in disbelief, I said, “I said a prayer for you today.” I didn’t know what else to say, so I walked away.

The dictionary defines the word apology as “an admission of error or discourtesy accompanied by an expression of regret.”  That particular definition only covers one of the five components that I think are necessary for a genuine apology.  Here are my five components in chronological order:

December 10, 2011

A Genuine Apology

Last Month I went to Atlanta, Georgia, for a four day conference.  I took a direct flight from the airport in Bloomington (Central Illinois Regional Airport) to the airport in Atlanta (Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport).  The flight was scheduled to depart at 6:40 p.m., but was delayed for over ninety minutes.  In addition to the long delay, when I arrived in Atlanta, I had to set my watch ahead an hour because of the time change.

The airport in Atlanta holds the record for being the busiest airport in the world.  Last year, over eighty-nine million (89,000,000) passengers passed through the airport.  That averages out to be over 243,834 passengers every single day.  The airport is so huge I had trouble finding my way around.  There were massive crowds of people walking every which way.  It was almost as though they were synchronized with each other’s movements, which precluded them from bumping into each other.  The experience was like something you would see in a movie such as Pixar’s, Monsters, Inc.

After I got off the plane, in order to get to the baggage claim area, I had to ride down the longest escalator I’ve ever seen (at least four stories long).  The area where the escalator ended was underground.  After getting off the escalator, I stepped onto a tram with a herd of other people.  We were transported through a tunnel that was located underneath the runways.  When the tram stopped and the doors opened, I had to ride another long escalator back up to the land of the living, where I picked up my luggage.

To get to the rental car facility, I had to locate and step onto another long escalator that took me to an area where I got on another Tram that moved along tracks that were at least twenty feet above ground level.  After a seven or eight minute ride, I stepped off of the tram into a building that was populated with rental car service counters.  I located the rental car company where I had reserved a car and signed the necessary paperwork.  After that, I took another escalator down to the street level where there was a huge parking lot that was spread out over several blocks.

December 3, 2011

The Wrong Way To Apologize

If you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you may have noticed that I have a little bit of an anger problem.  Although I’m optimistic by nature and work hard at staying positive, there are certain situations that irritate me and cause me to automatically respond in a hostile way.  Two such situations are: (1) when a person who should be listening to me doesn’t listen; and (2) when a person doesn’t do what he (or she) promised to do.

I have rarely regretted responding in a hostile way toward individuals who have failed to listen to me or keep their word.  My response to their inept and dishonest behavior has always been swift and aggressive.  I have never hesitated to put them in their place and hold them accountable for their behavior.

This particular way of dealing with people has been beneficial to me in the legal and business world, where intimidation and confrontation are sometimes the only effective way of dealing with incompetent and dishonest people.  Unfortunately, because this behavior has become reactive and automatic, it has affected the way I deal with people in non-business situations.

On one occasion about five or six years ago, I pulled up to the drive-thru at a local McDonald’s restaurant.  At the time, Georgette and our three younger daughters, Mary, Christine, and Teresa, were in the car with me.  When the McDonald’s employee said she was ready to take my order, I told her what we wanted.  After I was finished giving her the order I said, “And that’s all I want.”  I then asked her to repeat the order so I could make sure she heard me correctly.

After she read the order back to me, I told her, “Yes, that’s correct.  That’s all I want.”  She then said, “Would you like to order an apple pie with that?”  I instantly and automatically snapped back, “No!  I already told you I didn’t want anything else.  Weren’t you listening to me?”  After a moment of silence, the McDonald’s employee told me the total amount of the order and asked me to pull up to the payment window.