Judge Elbert Parr Tuttle’s View of a Lawyer’s Professionalism

Several times over the last six years, I’ve shared one of my favorite passages from one of my legal heroes, the Hon. Elbert Parr Tuttle.
 Judge Tuttle served on the Fifth and Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals from 1954 until his death just a month shy of age 99, in 1996.  He’s remembered as a model attorney and judge, one who represented the absolute best in the profession.

Judge Tuttle was a champion of civil rights, both as a lawyer and a judge and, along with other members of the Fifth Circuit (John Minor Wisdom, John Brown, and Richard Rives) was instrumental in bringing effective desegregation to the South.  (The anecdote at the beginning of this story about Judge Tuttle illustrates not only how he came to play such a role; it also illustrates the power that parental example can have on children, and then children on the world.)  For more on Judge Tuttle’s life and accomplishments, see any of the memorials and articles written about him and read Jack Bass’s phenomenal book Unlikely Heroes.

Judge Tuttle gave a commencement speech at Emory Law School in the 1950s that defines professionalism.  It has informed my understanding of what it means (and what it should mean) to be an attorney.  I make it a habit to read through Judge Tuttle’s speech at least once a year.  It seems particularly appropriate now.  The full speech is not available on the Internet, unfortunately.  But here’s an excerpt, provided by the Washington Realty Group:

The professional man is in essence one who provides service.  But the service he renders is something more than that of the laborer, even the skilled laborer.  It is a service that wells up from the entire complex of his personality.  True, some specialized and highly developed techniques may be included, but their mode of expression is given its deepest meaning by the personality of the practitioner.  In a very real sense his professional service cannot be separate from his personal being.  He has no goods to sell, no land to till.  His only asset is himself.  It turns out that there is no right price for service, for what is a share of a man worth?  If he does not contain the quality of integrity, he is worthless.  If he does, he is priceless. The value is either nothing or it is infinite.

So do not try to set a price on yourselves.  Do not measure out your professional service on an apothecaries’ scale and say, “Only this for so much.”  Do not debase yourselves by equating your souls to what they will bring in the market.  Do not be a miser, hoarding your talents and abilities and knowledge, either among yourselves or in your dealings with your clients…

Rather be reckless and spendthrift, pouring our your talent to all to whom it can be of service!  Throw it away, waste it, and in the spending it will be increased.  Do not keep a watchful eye lest you slip, and give away a little bit of what you might have sold.  Do not censor your thoughts to gain a wide audience.  Like love, talent is only useful in its expenditure, and it is never exhausted.  Certain it is that man must eat; so set what price you must on your service.  But never confuse the performance, which is great, with the compensation, be it money, power, or fame, which is trivial.

…The job is there, you will see it, and your strength is such, as you graduate…that you need not consider what the task will cost you.  It is not enough that you do your duty.  The richness of life lies in the performance which is above and beyond the call of duty.

Elbert Parr Tuttle, Heroism in War and Peace, The Emory University Quarterly.  1957; 13: 129-30.

Your Leadership Matters

I’ve been struggling with how to address last Friday’s tragedy in Newtown.
 Perhaps you are from the Connecticut area; more likely, you’re a parent from another part of the country or world.  I am neither, and yet last Friday’s events have shaken me to my core.  My thoughts and prayers go out to those directly affected, as well as to those of you who have had to explain what happened and why to children and then to send those children back into the world, knowing that safety may be more illusory than we had imagined.

There’s been much discussion about what we as a society should do in terms of gun control, making treatment more available for the mentally ill, and protecting our children.  This blog isn’t the forum for me to promote the solutions that seem most appropriate to me.  The bottom line for me is, as expressed by Nelson Mandela, “We owe our children — the most vulnerable citizens in any society — a life free from violence and fear.”

As lawyers, we are in a unique position.  We are not “more equal” in any Orwellian sense, but we are often de facto leaders in our communities.  There’s been a great deal of discussion about whether this is the time for mourning or action, but I personally believe that the stakes are so high that the two should not be separated.

Please, use your leadership and your voice to advance the solutions that you think stand the best chance of creating the life our children deserve.  I will be doing the same in my community.  And whether we agree or disagree about the “how” of building a safer society, I believe that the free and open dialogue joined with action will advance that goal.

I wish those of you who will be celebrating Christmas next week a peaceful and joy-filled holiday with those you love.

Addressing Burnout: Your Productivity Depends On It

Burnout is a real issue for lawyers.
 Just about every lawyer has at least an occasional period in which it seems that work is pressing 18-20 hours a day, and most of us know intuitively that it’s important to recover following that kind of exertion.

But what about the kind of day-to-day grind that can cause low-level burnout?  Especially in the economic environment that’s existed over the last few years, many of us are delaying or even skipping vacation and working as much as possible, in part from fear that even a tiny “misstep” could jeopardize an entire practice.

Back in 2007, Chuck Newton posted on the “Cure for Lazy Lawyer Syndrome”.  It’s a terrific article that describes with a visceral clarity what it’s like to struggle with low-grade burnout:

You know something is wrong.  You intend to get to work early to catch up, but fail to do so.  You just cannot seem to make yourself finish that brief that is due in a week.  You avoid phone calls you know you should take.  You take a phone call and you know you should make a note, but you just cannot make yourself get around to it.  Then you forget the necessary details.  You know you should call your client, but it is so-o-o-o inconvenient.  You start to feel overwhelmed and you cannot find a starting place from which to even begin to catch up.  You are just feeling tired, depressed and rundown.  Vitamins do not seem to help much.

Does that sound all too familiar?  As I’ve noted before, the issues that arise in consulting with my clients tend to be cyclical, and this level of burnout seems to be pervasive right now.

Low-level burnout is especially challenging in the context of business development, especially for reluctant rainmakers.  If you’re not seeing enough results (or not seeing them fast enough), it’s easy to get sucked into taking on more activity — often without pausing to create a strategic plan — that gets almost frenetic.  Without a good plan, it’s often random activity that leads to random results, which leads to burnout plus a sense of I knew I wasn’t cut out to be a rainmaker failure.

Chuck’s post offers a solution, and he’s hit the nail right on the head:

My suggestion is that you will feel better about yourself, your practice and your competence if you will concentrate harder on the practice of law for shorter periods of time.  When you are in the zone, be in the zone.  Focus, but not so long that you get eye strain.


Short times away from your work (and I mean absolutely disconnecting from your work) will help you to be more productive and energetic back at your work.

Chuck emphasizes that this advice is especially important for “home office lawyers, connected lawyers and Third Wave Lawyers”.  (As a sidenote, Chuck’s Third Wave Lawyer blog always has interesting observations.)  But to my mind, it’s critical for all lawyers, especially since most of us are now “connected” most of the time.

The idea of short periods of intense focus alternating with periods of complete disengagement can be applied in any practice setting.  The Power of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz uses the analogy of sport to promote the proposition that “full engagement” requires selective disengagement from work.  If you’re feeling burned out, set aside a weekend to read and reflect on this book.

The risk of low-level burnout is that it makes everything less pleasant; it leads to reduced energy, reduced efficiency, and reduced productivity; and if left “untreated”, it can lead to major burnout.  My father, who’s practiced law since the mid-1960s, has given me much good advice, but one piece is especially relevant here.  Make it a habit — an occasional habit, but a habit nonetheless — to escape from the office midday, whether it’s to see a movie, to visit a bookstore or museum, or to take a walk somewhere.  Although the escape is great therapy to cure burnout, it’s even better applied to avoid it.


Would you prefer slow-yield or high-yield activity?

Last week on Twitter, I posted this innocuous (I thought) statement:  
“Writing and speaking tend to be time-sensitive activities with low immediate payoff.”

And then the firestorm started.  It seemed that people just had to remind me that writing and speaking are good long-term strategies for business development.  To which I’d respond, of course!

When you write and speak in your area of practice, you create objective evidence that you know the subject on which you were writing or speaking, and you demonstrate that others want to learn from you.  Is that valuable?  Absolutely.

When a potential client or referral source compares two biographical sketches, one with a long list of publications and presentations and one with a short or nonexistent list, guess who looks better?  The long list builds credibility immediately, even if the person reviewing the list lacks the knowledge to make any kind of substantive determination about the lawyer’s competence.

Objective evidence of competence, built through publication and presentation lists, is valuable.  Done well, that work can deliver dividends for years, both as reputation enhancement and as good content for following up with new contacts.


If you’re looking to bring in new business as quickly as possible, writing and speaking are unlikely to deliver the return you’re seeking.

Preparing a publication or presentation usually takes a lot of time.  When you know how, you can limit the time required to some extent (you may even be able to have a junior colleague do some of the heavy lifting for you) and you can shape your work product to be both informative and marketing-friendly.  But before you put your name on a publication, or before you stand up to speak to an audience, you’ll put in a lot of time to make sure you have everything straight. It isn’t light duty.

Most lawyers find that speaking generates contacts but usually not an immediate influx of business and that writing rarely even generates contacts.  That’s because there’s a distance (physical or conceptual) between you and your audience, even if you’re writing and speaking to the ideal audience.  There’s a barrier that a potential client would have to scale to consult with you about a specific matter.  And most people simply won’t scale that barrier in the ordinary circumstance.

So, in summary, writing and speaking can help you to build a great reputation, and you can harness the benefit of your work in a variety of ways over time…  But you probably won’t see a quick uptick in your business.  Does that mean you should not write or speak?  Absolutely not.  Every lawyer can benefit from writing and speaking, if that work is done well and with an eye toward its use in marketing.

But too many lawyers get stuck in the trap or wanting to build such a good reputation that clients will seek them out.  It’s a nice fantasy, and at one time it might have been closer to reality — but not now.  Just as a wise farmer plants crops that will mature at different times, you should plan marketing activities that will deliver results at different stages.  And you must recognize that, in most instances, writing and speaking are long-term strategies.

So, what’s a short-term strategy?

If you need business today, close your email right now and go meet with your clients, former clients, and those who have referred you business in the past.  When you finish those conversations, meet with people you know well who need your service but haven’t yet given you business.  Talk about what’s going on for them, share what you’ve been working on, and explore where need meets ability.  Listen more than you speak.  Hour-for-hour, those conversations will deliver a bigger and faster payoff almost every single time.

Writing or speaking vs. building relationships?  You must do both.  Choose which activities to do when based on what your goals are.  Just don’t convince yourself that you can sequester yourself in your office and write a great article that will deliver a steady stream of clients to your door right away.

(Incidentally, if you aren’t following me on Twitter, you might want to begin, since I share useful resources there on a daily basis.  Follow me @juliefleming.)