Musings of a Dead Lawyer Walking

Arizona Attorney magazine, the Arizona Bar’s monthly magazine, contains a running column on the last page entitled My Last Word written by a guest author. The November issue’s column was written by an anonymous author with a terminal diagnosis who has been reflecting on his life as the disease has progressed.  I thought the following passage was surprising, especially as it hits an important dispute resolution lesson:

My top regret is not having listened better to a whole litany of people – colleagues, opposing lawyers, judges, clients, witnesses, friends, my wife, etc.  I often was too busy thinking of what I was sure would be my clever or witty retort or my next question.  Other times I was too busy thinking about my problems or worries of the day.  I know I could have gained and offered a lot more if i had simply spent more time truly listening.

Anonymous, Arizona Attorney, p. 68 (Nov. 2018)

6 thoughts on “Musings of a Dead Lawyer Walking”

  1. I think that this passage has a strong relationship with dispute resolution. Oftentimes in dispute resolution, parties may not always be concerned about the end result of the case at hand, but rather some sort of closure to the issue or even just talking and listening to the other party. In class we discussed a case where a party just wanted to talk to with doctor and the monetary result was not their number one priority, but the attorneys involved were more concerned with the final judgement. This passage really drives home the point that sometimes it is better to listen to your clients, peers, etc. before jumping into the case. Other may have a different view of the issue than you, so taking the tine to listen is very helpful as an attorney.

  2. What strikes me the most about this passage is that I feel most people if under similar circumstances as the writer would have the same regret of not listening. Nowadays it feels that people are only listening to what others have to say in order for them to come up with a quick response, solely to disprove whatever is being stated. This does not open communication between individuals but shuts it down. By only listening in order to disprove the speaker, a true conversation is not actually taking place. Without listening and inviting the conversation in, no real development of ideas and complex thought can be created. This lack of creation leads to individuals solely focusing on what they believe while not listening to consider why the other persons thoughts have been developed by their experiences.

    One example where this seems to be taking place is within politics. Each side has determined that they can have the only right answer. This has lead to extremist views on both sides of the spectrum and has hindered minds from truly coming together to understand why each side has taken there stances. If both sides were more willing to listen and not just be prepared for a response, communication could be opened. This may not change the minds of each side but it will at least grant a glimpse into the others thought process and could lead to greater understanding and cooperation. I feel if each side would open their ears and truly listen the level of extremism we have seen lately would shrink and leave those few with extreme ideas on the peripherals instead of at the forefront.

  3. While the benefits alternative dispute methods confer to society and clients are well documented, these poignant remarks appear to support that we as lawyers can reap benefits to our overall wellbeing as well. The remorse expressed by the writer are natural given the adversarial nature of the profession. The stakes can be high in the legal field, and this can place a premium on the ability to quickly make the next move but rebutting or trivializing a legitimate counterpoint. I would imagine that this practice tends to leak outside the professional arena.

    I like to think I have a long legal career ahead of me, and this article has led me to seriously consider for the first time how my legal career may change me. I, like most I imagine, want to have a positive impact on those around and have as few regrets as possible. Unfortunately, the bustle of day to day life tends to cause one to lose sight of that. As suggested above, the skills that make for effective alternative dispute resolution and distinguish these processes from litigation are also more conducive to developing our personal relationships. Perhaps a wider use of alternative dispute methods in our professional careers will similarly lead us to employ these skills in our personal lives, allowing us to listen better, learn more and connect with those around us.

  4. I read this yesterday and have been thinking about it a lot. The fact that a dying man reflecting on his life listed his top regret as not listening enough has really stuck with me. I cannot begin to estimate the amount of times I have been told how important listening is, but I feel like every time my reaction is basically yeah I know and then the thought leaves me. But after reading this, the importance of being a good listener has really sunk in with me. After a career in law, this attorney, I would assume, could have talked about certain regrets he made in his career or certain cases, but his top regret was not listening well. This has made me consider how important listening really is and how making it a point to be better at it can really be beneficial. I can really relate to him talking about being focused on what you will say or do next rather than listening to what someone else is saying. I think this is a consequence of law school and the legal profession in general. Too often you are placed in pressure situations, be it in class, at work, or in a debate with a peer where you are intently focused on putting together your next response to what you anticipate the opposing party is going to say. I think if you were to take a breath and focus on what is being said to you, it will result in you having a more effective and relevant response. If we as lawyers are able to focus on developing better listening skills, we will be able to craft more effective responses and ultimately be better lawyers and people. I am very glad this attorney decided to share this thought. It has resonated with me and hopefully others will think about it and take his advice.

  5. I think that the lawyer’s commentary here brings an important concern about the legal profession to light—as lawyers, we are often so concerned with “winning” and one-upping the other side that we often forget what “winning” really means when representing a client. Oftentimes, a client’s sense of justice is not whether a judge necessarily rules in his favor, but is rather the fact that a particular issue was resolved in a way to best reflect the client’s goals and values. In our ADR class this semester, we started the semester off by discussing client interviewing, and we learned that the best way to build rapport with clients and to truly understand a situation and the client’s ultimate wants and needs is to be a good active listener. We learned that, oftentimes, a client has a hard time expressing exactly what they want or need out of a particular issue. Because of this, active listening is the way to get to the bottom of a problem and to help to truly understand what a client is concerned with. By observing body language and tone and by asking insightful questions, lawyers are able to connect with a client and to find the best solution for that particular client. And, as the lawyer here pointed out, it’s not just listening to the client that is beneficial—listening to colleagues, judges, and opposing attorneys can really help a lawyer become a better professional.

    I think the lawyer here also brings up a great point when he says that he personally could have gained a lot more by listening. Active listening doesn’t just help a client or one’s professional career—active listening opens us up to greater view points and perspectives, and I think that this helps to shape us into more empathetic, and overall better people. Surely, this would help to connect with future clients down the road, but I think it also opens us up in general to accepting and understanding a wider variety of issues. As Travis pointed out in his comment, many of our country’s current political standoffs could likely be resolved if we merely learned to communicate with one another better, and that starts with listening, not with speaking. Additionally, the lawyer here discusses how he wished he listened to his friends and his wife more as well. From this, it is clear that listening is not just a professional consideration, but a personal one, too.

  6. This quote is a very powerful message in communicating how important it is to be present and engaged. We are in a time where people are far removed from personal conversations and so involved in social media or whatever is behind their screens, that personal interactions are few and far between. The thoughts of this lawyer, who had to endure a terminal diagnosis to realize the importance of his own words, are not only fundamental in dispute resolution, but a great lesson for life in general. Hopefully his words will reach young professionals that may be able to learn from his mistakes and benefit from truly listening to those around them.

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