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Kim Lowe served as the 2015-2016 HCBA President. Views expressed here are her own.

 

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I'm Older Than Elvis!

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Monday, December 14, 2015

This week I celebrate my 45th birthday, and it is going to be hard.  I have never fretted about aging until this year.  No matter what I try to do to avoid thoughts of aging, I keep seeing evidence of it everywhere!  Did you know that Elvis was 42 when he died (you can read about Rock n’ Roll’s worst tragedy here) and we seem to be celebrating Sinatra turning 100 everywhere (check out how they celebrate him in Canadian news).  I'm older than Elvis was when he died. In fact, I'm older than my mom was when I graduated from college (okay, she had us young). 

Ironically, my birthday blues are not about the physicality of aging. I'm lucky!  I come from a long-lived family (mid-to-late 90s), and my mother slathered me in sunscreen as a kid, so wrinkles have generally avoided trespassing on my face.   Being a mid-forties business law lawyer these days is not so bad.  Yes, I can spend an excessive amount of money on wrinkle cream, but I have the luxury of experience and wisdom that a lawyer with fewer than 10 to 15 years of practice experience and an excessive social media "profile" cannot out market. 

My birthday blues don't revolve around my aging face or body or my higher billable rate.  No, my birthday blues revolve around the mid-life status of my legal career. Whether I like it or not, my 45th birthday triggers a need to consider the next 20 (or more likely 25) years of my economic earning as a legal professional. So, as I consider the second half of my life as well as the second half of my career as a lawyer (the average retirement age of a lawyer is 67.7, according to this essay by American Lawyer), I would be lying if I did not admit how the need to consider, adapt and change throughout my own legal career puts me in the middle of a lawyer mid-life opportunity. (I refuse to say crisis.) 

So while Elvis undisputedly accomplished much in the career he had while living to the ripe age of 42 (three years younger than I am this week!!!!) and Sinatra changed to the world before he died at the age of 82 in 1998 (the year I entered the practice of law), I, like all of you, must contemplate where our path's as lawyers go throughout the topography of our careers, and I must celebrate that, no matter what, "I did it my way!

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"You're Short on Ears and Long on Mouth"

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Monday, December 7, 2015

“You're short on ears and long on mouth.” 

The above words are attributable to legendary actor John Wayne.  Now, even if he just recited the words, the visual and audible image of John Wayne—hip cocked, head held at a confident but inquisitive manner, looking strongly into the eyes of the recipient of his words—creates a strong message for most of us.  And, let’s not kid ourselves, most lawyers love the sound of their own voice and fancy themselves the most important person in most situations.  We all went to or are in law school.  We all remember the gunner (or we were the gunner): that obsequious annoying person who, in every class (right or wrong) always seemed to be talking.  The Duke was talking to all of us when he uttered these words. 

Fast forward to any place or time in your legal career, and the gunner still exists and/or you are still the gunner.  I cannot say it as well as Stephen Covey, the author of the wildly successful (non-legal) book The 7 Habit of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change who said:

“Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” 

Cast in our own terms, many times when a lawyer is quiet, he or she is not really listening. Instead, the lawyer is formulating his or her next statement.  You can often tell when this happens because when the lawyer speaks, the words that come out of his or her mouth tend to not be responsive to the most recently made points. 

Why, you ask, am I blogging about this topic?  Diarrhea of the mouth is such a common character flaw of lawyers that most people just learn to work around it. But this is something we can’t work around any longer if we hope to be relevant in our current climate.

Nothing quite sums up the feelings of anger and frustration this lack of listening brings better than Aerosmith’s classic Janie’s Got a Gun.  We are living in a local and global world of violence. A world where those who feel unheard can easily arm themselves and commit acts of violence to be heard.  Talking more and louder than the next person, without listening and hearing, has brought us to a 2015 where mass shootings, gun violence, and terror attacks have become as common as the sound of the gunner’s voice in first- year torts class.  As lawyers, we need to be a part of the solution.  We need to assist and facilitate conversations that will hopefully heal the wounds that are driving more and more men and women to react violently and murderously when they are not being heard.  

We need to aspire to be something more than our own egos.  If we as lawyers can learn to listen and hear, we can help others to listen and hear, and then, hopefully, we can start moving people—one conversation at a time—toward civil discussions instead of violence.  Calvin Coolidge said: “It takes a great man [or woman] to be a good listener.”  So, let’s lengthen our ears, shorten our mouths and become great people!

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What's Love Got to Do With It?

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Monday, November 23, 2015

Many say that lawyers, by definition, are risk adverse.  Numerous blogs and articles have been written about the nature of those who become lawyers and lawyers’ general aversion to risk.  Very few of us can claim the courage of Atticus Finch, who took on the defense of Tom Robinson even though his career and family were put at risk for doing so. In his words: “Courage is not a man with a gun in his hand. It's knowing you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

For most of my life and career, I was no exception to the basic risk-averse rule. I took a straight educational path set for me by my parents to become a lawyer at a large regional law firm.  I can tell pitchy stories about being a precocious child, but the truth is that I was a good student with strong verbal communication skills. The most credit I could take for my legal career was that I did well in school and had the ability to work for long stretches of time.  Most importantly, up until recently, I was still on the path that had been set for me.  I followed the personal and professional examples set for me by my senior partners—and life on this path was good.  No risks were required for this good life. 

Tina Turner’s What’s Love Got to Do With It exemplifies an event that changed my life and the course of my career.  Consider these lyrics:

“What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a sweet old fashioned notion
What’s love got to do, got to do with it
Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken?”

You see, I fell in love with a man who did not love me back and my heart got broken.  I took a risk, I failed, and I got hurt.  No great drama here except in my head and my heart.  After this relationship ended, I moped for a few months with a sore heart.  After a time, I brushed myself off, and life went on—but it did not go back. 

After this experience with heartbreak, I felt strong enough to take risks professionally.  I stepped out of my comfort zone.  I took on more and more projects and activities that were “not billable” (in the famous words of private practice lawyers).  But I didn’t just step out my comfort zone a little; I took on immense, time-consuming projects unlike anything I had done before, and they completely shifted the path of my well-ordered and successful career.  In the legal world, any activity that takes time away from billing – even service, vacations, illness, and family – impacts the bottom line.  And for many of us, the bottom line is our measure of success as lawyers. 

So, the very personal experience of having my heart broken gave me the courage to take professional, experiential risks.  I tell this story not because this experience is unique, but because the experience shifted my perspective.  I took a risk, and I lost.  But most importantly, I learned that I could survive failure. And, as a result, risk taking became easier.  As the legal profession and all of its stakeholders (law schools, bar associations, service providers, law students, and lawyers) struggle with the brave new legal world, I challenge all of you to not only consider What’s Love Got to Do With It, but also to look for ways to shift your perspective so you can see what is possible and what you are capable of as both a professional and as an individual person.  Like Atticus, we all need to have the courage to try, but we might just win even if the odds are stacked against us.  

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Bond, James Bond

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Monday, November 16, 2015

I just saw the 24th James Bond film, Spectre (watch the trailer here).  While I am not going to discuss the merits of this film (there have been better and worse Bond films), I am going to discuss a few elements of the James Bond franchise that I find illustrative of the legal profession. 

Just in case you have lived under a rock for the past 50-plus years and you don't know anything about James Bond, here a few factoids:

   The character James Bond (also known as Agent 007) is a highly trained assassin with a license to kill for MI6 (the British Secret Service) who was created by author Ian Fleming. 

   Bond made his first appearance in Fleming's 1952 novel Casino Royale

   The James Bond movie franchise commenced in 1962, when Bond was portrayed in Dr. No by the then up-and-coming Sean Connery. In addition to Connery, Bond has been portrayed by 6 other actors: David Niven, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan and, most recently, Daniel Craig(Side note: my personal faves are Connery, Brosnan and now Craig.)

   James Bond is surrounded by a recurring cast of characters that include M, the head of MI6. (Dame Judi Dench played the first female version of the character in the 2006 relaunch of the franchise, Casino Royale, which is helmed by the delectable Craig.) There is also Q, the gadget guy, and Ms. Moneypenny, the trusted girl Friday to M. 

   Bond movies are noted for fantastic villains such as Le Chiffre, Mr. Big, Dr. Julius No, Kamal Khan and Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Recently, academy award-winning actors such as Javier Bardem and Cristoph Waltz have been cast as foils to Bond.

   Bond Girls are inevitably part of the equation, with James Bond seemingly irresistible to bodacious beautiful bubble-headed women who can easily be lured into intimate relations with James (Oh James!!!!)

Here is how the Bond franchise illuminates issues we face in the legal profession:

   Bond's relevancy in modern culture is constantly questioned, even by the franchise itself. This is most notably seen in the 23rd Bond film, Skyfall.  With the advent of services like LegalZoom and NextAdvisor, the market place constantly challenges the relevancy of lawyers. 

   Bond's continual modus operandi with respect to women (see Bond Girls above)—even after his boss was portrayed by one of the most celebrated and revered actresses in the modern era—questions the cultural relevancy of this old school character. Similarly, many Generation Xers and Millennials in the legal profession question the concept of work-life-balance, parity for women in leadership in the legal profession, and the ability of lawyers from culturally and racially diverse backgrounds to succeed in big firm private practice.  Even Daniel Craig, one of the most celebrated Bond actors, has been heard to question this continual formula.   

   Bond is a highly bespoke instrument of political destruction embodied in a suave, martini-drinking, tuxedo-wearing hot guy.  Many lawyers grapple with the image and uniform of a lawyer imposed on the profession by an earlier generation that is far removed from the clients we serve.  Many old guard lawyers argue that law is a profession that requires its participants to look the part.  Further, many lawyers grapple with the changed nature of the legal profession. 

Let's be honest, while we would all love to be the legal equivalent of James Bond (who wouldn't want to be that cool), the relevancy of James Bond today is just as questionable as the relevancy of law schools and an excessive number of highly-paid lawyers.  

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Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah

Posted By HCBA President Kimberly A. Lowe, Tuesday, November 10, 2015

I woke up this morning with this famous Disney song running through my head.  See for yourself how infectious “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” can be here in a clip from Disney’s Song of the South.   Regardless of pedigree, “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” expresses profoundly the simple joy that can be found in a wonderful day as well as in a satisfactory vocation. 

Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
My, oh my what a wonderful day!
Plenty of sunshine heading my way
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay

Mister Bluebird on my shoulder
It's the truth, it's actch'll
Ev'rything is satisfactch'll
Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, zip-a-dee-ay
Wonderful feeling, wonderful day!

Sometimes I just LOVE MY JOB!

I realize this might all sound more than a little Pollyanna-ish, but on more days than not I think there are no better jobs than mine. 

While the business of law can be stressful, the actual practice of law is very satisfying intellectually. Put most simply, clients pay me to think hard about complicated legal issues that involve multiple and layered business realities, goals and concerns.  My brain puzzles through applying various and multiple areas of the law to solve complex problems on a daily basis.  So while it has its pressures, the large firm private practice of law provides the best opportunity to do what I love on a regular basis and get paid for it!

I find immense joy in things that are puzzling.  Far more joy than I ever imagined 20 years ago when I was in my first year of law school at Boston College fretting about final exams in Torts, Property and Contracts.  I could not have imagined my future self waking up in the morning excited about a day of noodling, humming about blue birds on my shoulder. 

So to bring my Disney movie/musical adventure forward several more decades and maybe be relevant to a newer generation of lawyers, when I woke up this morning Buzz Lightyear’s charge “To infinity… and beyond!” also popped into my head right next to a little blue bird and Hayley Mills.  Lawyers, enjoy your job today!

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