Dog Owner’s Guide to Practicing Law
By Tanya Witt
The Witt Law Firm
My husband and I rescued two dogs,Charlie and Baby. Sharing our home with Charlie and Baby has not only enriched my life but it has provided insights for the practice of law. Many of the things that make dogs “man’s best friend” are qualities that are also beneficial to attorneys, especially those that own a practice.
Charlie is a bit like Marley from “Marley & Me.” Living with Charlie requires an abundance of patience, but he is also a lot of fun. A couple of years after we rescued Charlie, I saw a small Chihuahua in the street on my drive home. She was skin and bones and infested with fleas. No Chihuahua was reported missing at the animal shelters in the tri-county area and she did not have a microchip. Despite my efforts to locate her owner, no one ever contacted us. At first, I thought a Chihuahua may not be for me so I would place her with a rescue group. She seemed to have a different idea. She immediately became buddies with Charlie and seemed very much at home. She succeeded in capturing my heart and I named her Baby.
After finding myself the somewhat unintended owner of two dogs, I quickly realized they were a positive influence on my life and my law practice. If you have ever been lucky enough to live with “man’s best friend,” you know what I mean. Our law practices may benefit from incorporating these traits from our canine friends:
1. Have a great attitude and be loyal. Dogs are known for their enthusiasm and loyalty and mine are no exception.
As attorneys we owe loyalty to our clients, our firms and more broadly to the legal industry and court system. Perhaps the most important element in running a successful practice is the right attitude. If you share your home with a dog you know they are enthusiastic and have a “can do” attitude. Our clients and firms benefit when we put our all into everything we do. The issue of loyalty is essential when starting your own law practice. For financial reasons, some attorneys start a law practice on the side while still employed by a firm. Unless an employee attorney discloses that he is practicing on the side and the employer consents, the employee is breaching duties he owes his employer.
2. If what you want lies buried, dig until you find it. I do not know who originated this saying but it is a great motto.
If you have ever had a yard and a dog, you have probably witnessed the truth in this saying. Charlie is part rat terrier so he likes to dig. He does not limit his digging to the outdoors. If Charlie’s favorite toy is under the television stand or sofa, he will work until he has it (or until I get it for him). I practice family law and in some cases an opposing party may have concealed financial assets. In cases like that, significant digging may be required. This axiom applies to transactional work too.
Baby, like most dogs, is persistent and tenacious. She does it nicely so I never resent her for it but if she wants something she is going to get it. Invariably, she gets under the covers or is taken for a walk when she wants. Persistence, especially if carried out nicely, can be very effective to a law practice.
3. Greet everyone. Whether it is me at the door or a new person at the park, Charlie and Baby never fail to politely and warmly greet everyone.
Attorneys can implement this into their practice by courteously acknowledging all those with whom they interact. I start my work day by saying “good morning” to my receptionists and end it by saying “see you tomorrow” to the nice men who work in the garage at my office building.
In our practices, we should strive to greet every caller politely. The same policy should be applied to e-mail inquiries. And don’t let the warm reception end even when cases drag on. Stay committed and engaged with all clients, even the more difficult ones, until the representation is concluded.
4. Take your work seriously but enjoy it. Like most dogs, Charlie and Baby take their jobs as watchdogs to heart and they never slack off.
It is a good thing we live on a “dog floor” in our building where barking is acceptable. No one is going to sneak into our apartment. Whether a police dog or a family companion, dogs seem to find pleasure in their work. A dog’s consistency in carrying out their responsibilities is also a virtue to implement into our practices.
Let’s adopt that steadfast devotion from our canine friends. The practice of law is demanding and carries with it great responsibility but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it. One of the best things about owning your practice is working on the cases you enjoy or believe in.
Now if I could just find an office that lets me bring my dogs to work