What comes to mind when we think of time? Billable time, time management, time spent, time out, time flies, time stopped, a matter of time, on-time arrival, time to go … . According to Wikipedia, “Time is a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future.”
I cannot imagine any professionals more obsessed with time than lawyers. While a great debate still rages as to whether the billable hour is dead, the fact remains that many lawyers continue to measure services to clients by a unit of time: the billable hour. Even for lawyers not bound by a billable hour, there is always another deadline to meet or another call to make or another client to please.
Lawyers try to cope by “managing” their time. Ha! Ha! Are we not simply trying to manage the unmanageable? Some may be better than others at this attempt, but in reality, time is the great equalizer. It cannot be controlled no matter how hard we try. It does no good to ask for an extension. Twenty-four hours in a day is all we have, and all we will ever have. There always seems to be more to do.
While we all have equal hours in a day, we do not have equal days in a lifetime. Although lawyers may try to control all events and people around them, we are powerless to determine the most essential aspect of our existence. Tomorrow is not guaranteed, no matter how healthy, wealthy, or wise we may (or may not) be. In fact, we are all dying from the moment we are born. We just do not know exactly when the process will be completed.
Because lawyers view themselves as achievers and problem solvers, we find this lack of control over the big picture to be rather annoying. While some may choose to ignore it and some may try to fight it, perhaps the best approach is to just accept that not everything in life needs to be managed or measured. Lessons from others can be insightful.
I spent the last week with more than a hundred judges, lawyers, and others from across the country and Canada at the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs’ annual conference. From the many judges and lawyers in recovery from various forms of addiction, I learned a new measure of a day. For them, a day is not measured only in a billable hour or a brief written or a dozen emails exchanged. For them, the passing of a day is a gift of another 24 hours in which they have lived the miracle of recovery. This alone is a gift for which they are grateful. The courage they demonstrate in redefining each day and in acknowledging there are things over which they are powerless is inspiring.
While attending the CoLAP conference, I found myself doing something I never seem to find the time to do: reading a book that has nothing to do with the practice of law. Mitch Albom’s most recent book, “The Time Keeper,” was worth the couple of hours I spent. The main character, Dor, is the first man on earth to count the hours and is punished for trying to measure God’s greatest gift. His punishment? Being confined in a sort of purgatory listening to the cries from the people below begging for more time. You will have to read the book to find out how Father Time escapes this captivity. However, as a hint, it has something to do with convincing a couple of earthlings to reconsider how they spend their hours and how truly precious is the gift of each day.
Lawyers tend to have a tougher time appreciating the moments. A good many books have been written on why this might be the case. The intensity, focus and drive that make for a good lawyer can also make for a one-dimensional existence. While Dor had the power to stop time, we do not. Before the hourglass is empty, let’s all make it a point to pause every now and again to laugh a little, smell the roses, or whatever you do to make each day special.•
Bryant is a partner in the Evansville office of Bamberger, Foreman, Oswald & Hahn and is a member of the DTCI board of directors. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.