Fatherly and Other Wisdom for Enjoying the Practice of Law and More

The Bencher—July/August 2018

By Raymond T. (Tom) Elligett, Jr., Esquire

My father was not a lawyer, but despite—or because of that—he had a number of sayings. I didn’t fully appreciate these sayings until I got older and started practicing law. I now know some were adopted or adapted. In no particular order, here are some from him and others:

1. The marriage ruined the romance. While this can happen in the literal sense, the concept applies to all sorts of relationships. The life of the party may not make the best law partner. Sometimes talented people just don’t end up working well together. A quick legal search reveals cases of lawyers in disputes with each other. Be careful in choosing your partners in law.

2. Don’t be pennywise and pound foolish. Apparently of English derivation, it means don’t focus so much on the pennies something may cost, but more on the larger English pound currency. This applies to how lawyers approach legal problems—but perhaps more to clients who want to cut corners at the potential risk of the larger goal.

3. It takes two to tango. My father used this to respond to a comment that one young person had led another astray. Turns out this was the title of a 1952 song by Pearl Bailey. It applies to the temptation to respond in kind to unprofessional conduct by an opponent. Former Judge Peter D. Webster expressed a similar sentiment when he cautioned attorneys not to get down in the mud with pigs—the pigs love it and you just get dirty.

4. Don’t worry, it won’t drink much. Dad used to say this if one of us kids complained there was a bug in our drink. It also applies to recognizing when certain small things are not likely to make a difference in a legal matter. I once saw a case in which one party had maneuvered to where he could have obtained a very favorable settlement. He kept pushing on minor points until the other side walked away. The case settled later but not as favorably to the party haggling over the small “bugs.”

5. Loaded for bear. When he saw us prepared for sports or another outing, Dad would say we were loaded for bear. Most sources attribute this to Americans in the western wilderness being ready for an encounter with an aggressive and dangerous predator. It applies to preparing your case for trial or appellate litigation as well. You may not need to repel every argument you think of in advance, but you want to anticipate those that may come your way.

6. Everyone here seems a little strange except you and me (pause)—and I’m not so sure about you. A favorite expression said around a group of people, whether strangers, neighbors, or family. Each person has unique attributes—some might call them quirks or oddities. Keeping differences in mind helps in a variety of settings, from jury trials to arguments before the bench, to dealing with non-lawyers.

7. A good case with a bad client is a bad case. The late Judge James W. Whatley told a story from his time in private practice: A potential client with a good case asked for a copy of his malpractice policy. The judge turned down the case. The would-be client later sued the lawyer he hired after the lawyer got him a settlement. That lawyer had given the client a copy of his policy.

8. My favorite waste of time. The title to a great song by the outstanding Marshall Crenshaw. We all need to enjoy things away from our work. I doubt any grandparents would consider time spent with their grandchildren a waste of time. To borrow from Tampa lawyer Larry Stagg, grandchildren are one of the few things in life that are not overrated. It’s okay to spend some time decompressing in other ways, although some may follow the Warren Zevon sentiment: I’ll sleep when I’m dead.

There are still several we have not delved into, like having a hand out and a mouth full of gimme, or having champagne taste on a beer budget. Hopefully, this makes some readers think of others—and maybe smile for a moment.

Raymond T. (Tom) Elligett Jr., Esquire is a partner at Buell & Elligett, P.A., in Tampa, FL. He is a Master of the Bench in the J. Clifford Cheatwood AIC and a member of the American Inns of Court Editorial Board for The Bencher.

© 2018 Vern D. Schooley, Esquire. This article was originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the written consent of the American Inns of Court.