James J. Bell, Amateur Life Coach – March 5

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James J. Bell, ICLEF's Amateur Life Coach

Dear Bell:

Although becoming a criminal defense lawyer over 12 years ago has been one of the true blessings in my life, I am now 52 and growing ever-more weary dealing with other people’s crises day in and day out.  And even though I believe there is truth to the suggestion that “the only real joy in this world is helping other people,” how do I put this . . . ?  I’m tired.

Was Rumi right when he proclaimed:  “Your legs will get heavy and tired.  Then comes a moment of feeling the wings you’ve grown, lifting”?  Or is this all just horse-puckey?

Sincerely,

Bedraggled in Bloomfield

Dear Bedraggled:

Buck up. I am not big on quoting theologians like you, but I do know that Big Daddy Kane once said “pimpin’ ain’t easy.” Well guess what? Lawyer’n’ ain’t easy either. We should expect this job to be a challenge.

Nevertheless, please know that I can relate to what you are going through. As an Amateur Life Coach, I carry the imagined burdens of all my imagined readers and I know how you feel.

In order to give you some real advice, I consulted with a licensed therapist who gave you a preliminary diagnosis of “burnout.” Lucky for all of us, she also gave you the following “Top 10 Ways to Take Good Care of Yourself/Avoid Burnout.” Here they are:

  1. Sleep a minimum of 7 ½ hours per night;
  2. Eat your fruits and vegetables and avoid junk food and soda;
  3. Spend time with your family having fun;
  4. Work fewer hours but be more productive when you are at work;
  5. Read the book “Co-Dependent No More” (to make sure your client problems don’t become yours);
  6. Spend time talking with other attorneys about how they avoid taking on their client’s problems;
  7. Join a book club;
  8. Find a hobby you enjoy and do it;
  9. Buy a relaxation CD and use it once a day; and
  10. Don’t keep clients who don’t pay you.

Good thing I consulted with a licensed therapist.  My advice would have been to drink 12 Pabst Blue Ribbons and call me in the morning.  I like her Top 10 better.

So take the afternoon off, go home, eat well, get a good night of sleep and come in re-charged to take on the world tomorrow.  And don’t forget that people love you and think you are a great lawyer.  (At least, that’s what your mom said after she told me you were whining too much and getting on her nerves.)

Hope this helps.

Sincerely,

Bell
Amateur Life Coach

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Dear Bell:

Matthew McConaughey is pretty cool and looks great without a shirt on, but has he ever played a lawyer as good as Atticus Finch?

Sincerely,

Wondering in Wawasee

Dear Wondering:

I haven’t seen all of McConaughey’s movies, but he was pretty smooth as “The Lincoln Lawyer” and he pulled a rabbit out of his hat in “A Time to Kill.” I can’t remember “Amistad” well enough to grade his performance, but it doesn’t matter.

Everyone knows that Atticus Finch is the greatest lawyer that never lived. He defended Tom Robinson with a sense of optimism and thirst for justice that even the best lawyers lose sight of.  Even though he lost the only case we ever saw him try, we can’t hold that against Atticus. That would be like saying Eli is better than Peyton because Eli was on a team that won two Super Bowls, when Peyton carried his whole team for years only to get one Super Bowl ring. Everyone knows Peyton is the better quarterback and everyone knows Atticus tops any lawyer played by Matthew McConaughey – with or without a shirt.

Hope this helps.

Sincerely,

Bell
Amateur Life Coach

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Dear Bell:

I heard there is a guy in Florida who bills $1600 an hour. Can an attorney do that? Would you do that?

Sincerely,

Envious in Ellettsville

Dear Envious:

Whether an attorney can do this depends on who, what, where and (maybe even) why. Look at the factors laid out in Rule 1.5(a) of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct to determine whether the fee is reasonable. The Rule takes into account the attorney’s “reputation” and “experience,” “the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services” and the “time and labor required.” So even this fee could potentially be reasonable if this is how lawyers roll in Florida and this guy has an excellent reputation for handling complex cases.

Would I ever charge $1600 an hour?  No way. First of all, if I did, I wouldn’t have any clients. But even if I did have clients, I would still not charge that much. Why? Because I am afraid that if I charged $1600 an hour that I could only force myself to work one hour a day. Then what would happen to me?

Lots of things. My blood pressure and my cholesterol level would decrease to medically acceptable parameters. I would have time to exercise, hang out with my family and do things around the house that I have been putting off. When I envision the “me” who only works one hour a day, I picture a much younger looking version of myself. It is a picture of a man standing in his front yard on a sunny day, with his two young daughters standing next to him. The man is wearing a backpack. I don’t know where he is going, but I am sure it is somewhere fun.

The “me” I envision is in shape and has a slight, natural, non-spray, non-John Boehner looking tan. As I look more closely at myself, I notice that my forehead looks smaller because I have somehow regenerated the hair that I have been busy losing during my legal career. It is a happy, healthy, hairy, handsome, relaxed and otherwise completely unrecognizable version of “me.”

The way I see it, billing $1600 an hour could make me a complete and balanced person who thinks he is perfect.  And who wants to get advice from an Amateur Life Coach who thinks he is so damn perfect?  No one. (Actually, no one seems to want to get any advice from an Amateur Life Coach who knows he is not perfect. But I digress.) If we got advice from people who thought they were perfect, we would all get our advice from Alec Baldwin, Tom Cruise and Donald Trump. Forget that.

So no thanks. Rather than get paid $1600 an hour, I will stick to the healthy and reasonable sum that ICLEF pays me to do this blog and conduct seminars throughout the year. This sum takes into account my “reputation” and “experience,” and “the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services”, so that sum is zero.

Hope this helps.

Sincerely,

Bell
Amateur Life Coach

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James focuses his practice in the areas of criminal defense, attorneys discipline defense and health care law. As a Marion County Public Defender, he represented clients in numerous jury and bench trials. James also represents clients in juvenile delinquency, appeals and post-conviction proceedings. James is a frequent ICLEF speaker on ethics, trial practice and criminal procedure. As of January 2013, he began serving as an adjunct professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law where he teaches a course on professional responsibility. To date, no student has yet stood on their desk and shouted “Oh captain, my captain!” Follow James on Twitter @jamesjbell

Questions for the Amateur Life Coach?  Email them to scottking@iclef.org.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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