When Your “Why” Is In Conflict

September 8, 2020

I’ll never forget the first time I saw my first office as a practicing lawyer. A black glass building 15 stories high with floor-to-ceiling windows. High school, four years of college, four years of night law school while I worked full-time and a grueling week of pressure called the bar exam. For this, I was being allowed an opportunity to help people. I felt like I was sitting on top of the world as I looked out over Lake Erie.

I met a man about my age at the gym. The man told me a horrific story and hired me to represent him.

I learned all the medicine. I discovered the doctor had lied to justify a surgery the doctor wanted to perform. The doctor botched the surgery, forcing additional surgeries, leaving my client horribly disfigured at the age of 29.

During the year it took to investigate the case, I saw case after case at my firm settle before trial for a fraction of their value. I learned the shiny offices came with a need to settle cases.

Four months before my client’s trial, a senior member of the firm advised that we settle the case for an amount in the low six figures because he thought the insurance company would pay that amount. The client had no interest in this amount and wanted to take his chances with a jury.

Two months before trial, the managing partner pulled me into his office and indicated he was going to reassign the case to the more senior lawyer. In his words, it would be “malpractice” for a second-year lawyer to try a case like this. I was in a no-win situation.

I brought the client in to meet with the managing partner and the senior lawyer. They explained how they thought it was in his best interest to turn the case over to a senior lawyer and allow me to assist.

The client said he did not care if Jim Casey had two years or 20 years experience; he had hired Jim Casey, and I was the one who knew his case, and I was the one he wanted trying his case.

My firm would not relent. What was I to do? I had a wife and baby on the way and I needed a job. Should I have talked the client into allowing the senior partner to take over the case and settle it? Maybe.

But I quit the firm. I tried the case and the jury awarded the client many times more than the pre-trial offer. The doctor’s lies were exposed, he was asked to leave the staff of the hospital. We made things better. I was hooked on medical negligence law.

When one door closes, another opens. A large local defense firm had a partner become ill and they heard about me. I was given a large number of medical negligence cases. Each one was a puzzle to figure out.

With more cases, I had more opportunities to be in a court room. More chances to make things better. Or so I thought.

Turned out that when we would win, the doctor or hospital would say, “see, I told you I didn’t do anything wrong.” When we would lose, they would look at me and ask what had I done wrong? It didn’t feel like I was making things better.

I really thought there was something wrong with me as I decided to leave a safe, secure high paying job with a bright future, a wife, and two young children that depended on me for an opportunity at a statewide firm that represented injured people.

I helped build a team crisscrossing the state representing people injured by medical negligence. Success bred more success and we added partners to assist in the prosecution and medical people to help in the work up. We were helping people and exposing real problems. We were making positive change at hospitals across the state. I was extremely happy.

But, the more we made, the greater the push for more and more revenue. Again, the clients’ interest came into conflict with the interest of getting more money.

I left the firm.

I really felt ashamed to be leaving a job making 7 figures. Why couldn’t I just suck it up and soldier on like the people around me? I didn’t know it at the time, but I was just trying to put what I did and how I did it back in balance with my why.

I now know that my why is to make things better. On each occasion where I was happy, we were making things better for our clients and for everyone. When my why became out of balance with the people around me, I became angry or sad and I left.

There is nothing wrong with having money as a why. Lots of people have lots of success chasing a dollar. I have made plenty of money and I don’t apologize for that. I’ve worked very hard and taken lots of risk. It’s just that when chasing money is the primary motivation, that is out of balance with my why and I cannot coexist. At the times I have been chasing money, each conquest left me feeling relief instead of happiness. I felt afraid because No matter how much we got, there was always more to get. I felt hollow.

I remember a partner who would joke “you think it’s all about the money? You’re damn right it’s all about the money.” I realize now that I shouldn’t have been angry or sad with that partner. I should have realized his why was money and that was just different from mine. Had I realized this earlier, it would have saved me years of frustration.

Ironically, when the primary motivation has been to make things better for my client and for the community, I still make plenty of money and my success rate is much better. Because what I do and how I do it is in balance with why I do it, there is much more joy for me; for the clients; and for the people I work with.

I would challenge you to look back on any part of your life or your career when you were the happiest, angriest, or most sad. Was what you were doing in balance with your why? I would bet you were in balance when you were happy and out of balance when you were angry or sad. It’s hard to live a life that is out of balance, at least it has been for me.

If you haven’t found your why, start there.

Mail Icon
Have a case?
User Icon
Email Icon
Phone Icon
Pencil Icon