The Lawyer’s Compass — The Fine Art of Being an Advisor

We all have our share of hard times. My senior year in high school stands out as one of my darkest. None my friends knew the depth of what was going on inside of me, save one person, Steve Earl.

At school, I laughed and joked. I kept my grades up and worked hard at wrestling and my golf game. But inside I was coming apart at the seams. Emotionally I was at war with myself. During the daytime, when I was busy doing everything I was supposed to do, I was fine. But at night uncertainty and confusion roamed the streets of my mind and heart.

Growing up with a mom who was bipolar was taking its toll on my overall ability to understand and cope with the emotions that were coursing through my veins. Emotions were ‘bad.’ They were what put my mom the psychiatric units. My emotions meant that I wasn’t good.   

It was during those hours I called Steve or stopped by his home unannounced, that the mending me back together happened. Steve didn’t fix me. He couldn’t have. He was there for me, which is better than fixing.

I have the good fortune of calling a handful of people throughout my life trusted advisors. They may not have known they were filling that role. None of them wore a nametag that said My name’s _______, I’m a Trusted Advisor. It’s not a title you give yourself. It’s bestowed upon you.

I had no idea the first day I shook hands with Steve, the new golf coach at my high school, that I was meeting a man who would guide and counsel me through some of the hardest times of my life.

Do me a favor, take a minute before you read any further and think about what words and phrases you use to describe what makes up a trusted advisor.  

In reflecting on all that Steve gave me I have my own answer to what makes a trusted advisor:

  1. Generous with their time
  2. Self revealing
  3. Kind
  4. Non judgmental
  5. Patient
  6. Genuinely caring
  7. Offers Insight
  8. Faith in me

It wasn’t his amazing swing and ability to translate his knowledge to those he instructed that allowed him to play such a large role in my life. It was his character — the way he showed up in my world that made the difference.

The same is true for all of us, whether you’re a lawyer or not. No matter how smart, talented and dedicated we are at knowing the technical parts of being a lawyer, those things alone will never make us a great advisor.

We’ve all met someone who clearly knows the technical part of their business, but when it came to working with them, they didn’t seem to really care or be truly focused on my interest, let alone take the time with us that we really needed.  

Connections differ with each client. But the approach does not. It’s like the reasonable prudent person test that we learned in torts class. What the reasonable prudent advisor does, doesn’t change, only the circumstances do.

It’s the unique circumstances of each day, and each client, that can make doing what a reasonable prudent advisor does, challenging.  

When I have a client that pushes my buttons, drives me nuts or is irritating for whatever idiocratic reason, it’s hard to be the best advisor I can. I have to be willing to dig deep within myself with the difficult clients, and on the days where I’m only firing on five out of my eight cylinders, to be the advisor I’d wish for.

We all need a Steve in our lives. Someone who is non-judgmental and patient. Generous of time and heart. Genuinely caring.

Who Steve showed up as for me reverberates in my life some forty years later.

A trusted advisor doesn’t fix you. They help you see the way to fix yourself. 

What a trusted advisor looks like for each of us will differ. If you haven’t already, write down the traits you associate with a trusted advisor in your life. That understanding is no less important or challenging than thoroughly knowing the law.

Share part or all your list in the comments. If you feel so moved, who are the trusted advisors in your life? I will.

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  • Virginia Warren
    Reply

    Beautiful article Jim. I’m so glad that you were able to find a trusted advisor early in your life. Being able to then go full circle and give that experience back to your clients is wonderful.

    • Jim Dwyer
      Jim Dwyer
      Reply

      Thank you for your very kind words. It’s by harnessing the technical knowledge that we have with the role of a true adviser that we give and receive the most from the practice of law.

    • jennifer jefferis
      Reply

      Loved your article Jim. Such tender words to entrust to others. I am always taken by your open and willing spirit. You have developed the intricate balance between being a lawyer and being a trusted advisor. Kudos, Jen

      • Jim Dwyer
        Jim Dwyer
        Reply

        Thank you very much Jennifer.

  • Kazia
    Reply

    Just finished 3 of your articles, they are beautiful, meaningful, heartfelt and soothing. Just returned from a silent retreat and found your lovely writing a blissful extension of the mindfulness teachings. Love your writing style-you get to the point with heart, a smile and kindness. Much appreciated. More please!

    • Jim Dwyer
      Jim Dwyer
      Reply

      Thank you very much Kazia. I greatly appreciate it and I’m so happy to know that they resonate with you.

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