An Attitude of Gratitude - Articles

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Posted by: Daniel Van Horn on Nov 1, 2011

Journal Issue Date: Nov 2011

Journal Name: November 2011 - Vol. 47, No. 11

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It has all of the best parts of what Christmas should be but sadly often isn’t, including family and a time to reflect on the blessings in our lives. It always amazes me when I see folks living in true poverty whether here in Tennessee or in some foreign country and these folks display a grateful heart. In the midst of their harsh lives, they display true gratitude and that gratitude seems to lead to happiness. We need to learn from these folks and take stock in our own lives and in the state of our profession to find things for which we are grateful.

It is certainly true that the past year has seen significant challenges to our profession. I am concerned that tort reform will do little to improve the business environment in Tennessee and that what improvement may come is not worth the true human cost that is sure to come from the new limits imposed. I am concerned that the promise of new jobs for Tennesseans may not materialize in the way promised and that instead tort reform will do significant damage to the legal industry, costing Tennessee well-paying legal jobs. Yet in the midst of all that, there is still real reason to be grateful and hopeful.

1. Life. If you’re reading this, you have the most precious gift that any of us could ever have in this world — life. In the last year, we lost a number of our colleagues and leaders, including Justice Birch, Larry Wilks and Judge Rubin. Sometimes it is difficult to be grateful for life, but we should be. Time is precious. Start by being grateful for life and for the time that we have. Watching someone close to me struggle with cancer right now is the best reminder that I could ever have that life is precious and a gift not to be wasted.

2. The opportunity to practice law. We pay a privilege tax each year. The term privilege is appropriate because we get the privilege to practice law. It may not feel that way some days, but never forget that we get the chance to make a difference in the lives of our clients. They come to us at moments when they are most at need. They place their trust in us, and time and time again we as a profession deliver.

We get to help people start their business or become a citizen. What we do is an essential part of the American dream. We should be proud of our work and grateful for the opportunity to do it.

Those of you who work in criminal justice, help mete out justice. You ensure that civil liberties and constitutional rights are respected. Your work is essential to the maintenance of any civilized society. Hold your head high for your part in our profession and our society.

Those studies showing that the legal profession is held in low esteem are almost always studies of a generic lawyer. When asked about their own lawyer or a specific lawyer whom the person knows, most folks respond that they have great regard for what we do. Be grateful for the opportunity to practice law.

3. Work. If you have a job, be grateful for that job. Far too many recent grads are struggling to find work. If you are your own boss and have clients, be grateful for those clients. They may drive you crazy some days, but there are attorneys who would kill to have what you have. If you are blessed enough to have work and to have clients, stop for a second and be grateful.

4. Friends. One of the great things about our profession is its sense of belonging and collegiality. Clients often have a hard time understanding why attorneys can and should shake hands after a trial or a hearing. They want us to be gladiators for them. Thankfully, the vast majority of us know how to zealously advocate for our clients and yet leave that behind when the case is over or when not in the courtroom. That unique ability to turn on advocacy and turn it off when appropriate leads to some real friendships in our profession. Whether you have friends in or out of our profession, be grateful for them. They help balance life and keep things in perspective.

5. Family. Last, but certainly not least, be grateful for family. Someone loves you even when you don’t deserve it. Someone is there ready to pick you up when you are down. Someone is there to cheer you on and to be the reason that you pursue your dreams. A favorite priest of mine used to say that the ones we love the most we hurt the most. Be grateful for family and let them know that you love them.

No matter how high or how low things are for you right now, there is always reason to be grateful. So take stock in your life. Have an open heart and open eyes to see all the things in your life that are good. Give thanks for them and try to show others your gratitude.

Radio talk show host Dave Ramsey often responds to, “How are you doing?” with “Better than I deserve.” What a great response. I am convinced that we lead happier lives, treat others around us better and serve our clients better when we have an attitude of gratitude. This Thanksgiving, among many other things, I am grateful for the opportunity to serve you, to be part of our great profession and to be an attorney. Best wishes to you and your families.

Danny Van Horn TBA President DANNY VAN HORN is a partner with Butler, Snow, O'Mara, Stevens and Cannada PLLC in Memphis.