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.
A few weeks ago, my daughter Anna had a birthday party at her home. Anna has five children. They range in age from one-year-old to nine years old. After the party was over, I walked into Anna’s kitchen to say goodbye to her. When I entered the kitchen, I heard her two-year-old son Peter ask, “Mom, can I wear my vestment?” Anna replied, “Yes, I’ll get it for you in a few minutes.”
The vestment that Peter was referring to is similar to the one that is being worn by his brother in the picture on this page. The picture was taken on Halloween, two years ago. The two women in the picture are my daughters, Anna and Maria. Anna is on the left holding her son, Peter, and Maria is on the right holding her daughter, Katie.
The children standing in front are from left to right: Anna’s son David (dressed as a priest); Maria’s daughter Grace (dressed as a bride); Anna’s daughter Mary (dressed as a nun); and Anna’s daughter Kathryn (dressed as a nun).
David is wearing a vestment that is similar to the one Peter was referring to when he asked his mother if he could wear his vestment. Anna recently made a second vestment for Peter. She also made the costumes that her daughters were wearing in the picture.
A couple of years ago, David received a children’s priest kit as a gift. The kit includes a chalice, paten, and other items that a priest uses when he celebrates Mass. David and his brother and sisters frequently celebrate Mass in their home. They know all about the Mass because Anna attends daily Mass with them.
This is what goes on in the home of a devout Catholic family. It’s what went on in my parents’ home when I was growing up. I remember frequently participating in Mass at home with my brothers and sisters when we were young. We used oyster crackers for communion, and everyone who participated had their own role in the Mass.
BOO! Since Halloween is quickly approaching, I thought I would write about a deadly disease that’s scarier than the Ebola virus — a disease that has infected hundreds of millions of people worldwide. While everyone should be afraid of this disease, very few people seem to care about it. If they had full knowledge of its devastating consequences, they would be petrified and would wear the equivalent of a hazmat suit to protect themselves from the disease.
I’ll talk about the disease in a moment, but first I want to tell you about a movie I saw in the early 1970s, while I was in high school. The name of the movie was The Picture of Dorian Gray.
During the 1970s, the only way we could watch a movie was when it was shown in a theater or on television. Back then, we didn’t have video or DVD players because they had not yet been invented. We also didn’t have cable or satellite TV. All we had were the three major networks — ABC, NBC, and CBS. Like most other classic movies, The Picture of Dorian Gray was shown on television about once a year.
I watched the movie because my mom told me that if I ever had a chance, I should watch it. I was intrigued by what she said about the movie, so I made sure to watch it when it was shown on television.
The Picture of Dorian Gray was a horror-drama film that was originally released in 1945 by MGM Studios. It was based on a novel that was written in 1890 by Oscar Wilde. In the movie, Dorian Gray, a young, good-looking, wealthy man who lives in London, poses for a portrait that is painted by his friend, Basil Hallward.
When a friend of Basil’s, Lord Henry Wotton, sees the portrait, he convinces Dorian that he should do whatever it takes to always stay young and handsome. Dorian makes a prayer-like statement that he would give up his soul if he could always remain as young and handsome as he is in the portrait.
After starting my own law practice in 1983, the first lawyer who hired me to help him with some of his client files was Raymond (Ray) Rose, a well-known Peoria injury and malpractice trial attorney. In addition to paying me to work on his files, Ray taught me the fundamentals of how to handle clients, question witnesses, conduct depositions, and prepare cases for trial.
Among insurance defense attorneys, Ray was known as the “gentle interrogator.” He was never aggressive or belligerent when he questioned a witness. He always behaved like a gentleman and used his friendly and laid-back style of questioning to catch a witness off guard, which allowed him to later maneuver himself into a position where he could discredit the witness.
Shortly after I started doing work for Ray, he gave me a book that he thought I would benefit from reading. The book, Gunning for Justice, was written by Gerry Spence, who at that time was one of the most famous trial lawyers in America. In his book, Spence described, in detail, the facts surrounding five separate landmark cases that he had won for his clients.
If I were to name the handful of books that have had the greatest influence on me, Gunning for Justice would be one of them. Because of its R-rated content and language, it’s not a book I would recommend for children or teenagers, but it is a book that should be read by every new trial attorney.
The most significant lesson I learned from Gunning for Justice was that I had an obligation to be a warrior for my clients, without any fear of what other attorneys, judges, reporters, or anyone else might say or think about me or my clients. Spence gave me permission to be myself when I tried a case in front of a jury. He drove home a point that my mom always preached while I was growing up: Regardless of what a person might think or say about me, I have an obligation to boldly tell the truth and speak out for what is right.
If you pay any attention to the news, you know that on Friday morning, December 14, a 20-year-old man shot and killed his mother in her home in Newtown, Connecticut, and then drove her car to a local elementary school and murdered six adults and twenty children. He then turned his gun on himself and committed suicide.
Later in the day, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy said, “Evil visited this community today, and it’s too early to speak of recovery.”
One report indicated that it was believed the gunman suffered from a “personality disorder.” Regardless of what investigators find out about the killer, we will never know what was really going on in his twisted mind at the time of the killings.
What we are witnessing is the unraveling of our civil society. Unfortunately, evil has been visiting a lot of communities lately.
What happened in Connecticut on Friday could have happened at any one of the thousands of schools throughout our country. We don’t think about it much, but our lives are in danger every time we leave our homes. In fact, we can’t even be sure that we’re safe in our own homes.
About 25 years ago when Georgette and I had four young children, we lived in a house that had a fenced-in back yard. Whenever our children were in the back yard playing, every five or ten minutes Georgette looked out the kitchen window to make sure they were okay.
One of our neighbors, whose yard was on the other side of our fence, owned a big dog that would often stand at the fence and bark at our children while they were playing. We were not concerned about the dog because we knew that it was unable to jump over the fence.
One day while two of our daughters were playing in the yard, Georgette glanced out the kitchen window to check on them. The moment she looked out the window, she saw the neighbor’s dog jump over the fence and start running toward the girls. Georgette immediately ran outside and stood between the dog and our daughters, who were so frightened they were paralyzed. She then brought the girls into the house.
I heard a joke recently that I think is worth passing on: Two well-armed pirate ships with large crews are closing in on a ship. The first mate alerts the captain of the ship that they are about to be attacked. The captain immediately barks out an order to the first mate: “Bring me my red shirt!” A fierce battle takes place and the captain and his crew defeat the attacking pirates. The first mate then asks the captain why he insisted on wearing his red shirt. The captain responds, “I put on my red shirt because if I would have been wounded in battle, my men would not have been able to see my blood and lose heart.” The following week, the first mate rushes up to the captain and tells him that an entire fleet of well-armed pirate ships – a dozen in all – with large crews, is closing in on the ship. The captain immediately shouts out an order to the first mate: “Bring me my I brown pants!”
Although, I don’t own a pair of brown pants, there is a brown garment that I do own and wear 24 hours a day, 7 days a week (except when I take a shower). Do you know what garment I’m referring to?
It’s my Brown Scapular.
A lot of Catholics are not familiar with the Brown Scapular (of Our Lady of Mount Carmel). On July 16, 1251, the Blessed Virgin Mary appeared (with a multitude of angels) to St. Simon Stock. While holding a Brown Scapular, our Lady made this promise:
“Whosoever dies wearing this Scapular shall not suffer eternal fire.”
This promise was a guarantee that any person who dies wearing the Brown Scapular will go to Heaven (although the person may still have to pass through Purgatory first).
The Brown Scapular is a sacramental that is sometimes referred to as “Our Lady’s Garment.” It is made from two small pieces of brown woolen cloth. No picture or cover for the cloth pieces is necessary. The two pieces of cloth are attached to a string, chain, or any type of cord. The Scapular is worn around the neck (over the head on the shoulders) with one piece of cloth on the back and the other piece on the chest.