CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER 1. 800. 973.1177
The I’m Second Rule
[A. Harrison Barnes]
If You Focus on the Needs of Others and Not Yourself, You Will Succeed. Following this simple rule can make your legal career more fulﬁlling (and suc-
An attorney’s job is to solve the problems of personal experiences was in my work as an me that if I was not careful, he would “cut
others. Attorneys are hired to be advisors asphalt contractor. This is where I learned me up.”
and problems solvers. One of the most no- the I’m Second Rule.
table aspects of many of the people who be- Even though I had basically quit the asphalt
come attorneys is that they are hardly aware When I was in high school, I started an business, the phone in my home still rang
of why their jobs exist. These attorneys asphalt business, paving the driveways of constantly with complaints about my shoddy
believe that the law exists to serve them. In homeowners in the Detroit area (where I am asphalt workmanship and demands that I
their minds, the law exists to give them feel- from). The work was absolutely grueling and come and fix the work. Towards the end of
ings of superiority, income and respectability was so difficult that very few people in the the summer, I had saved just over $1,000
in society. entire area would even attempt to do it. This and went to a hardware store to buy supplies
was not the sort of work anyone wanted to do in order to fix one of the jobs I had botched.
This article examines the importance of and, because of that, it paid very handsomely. I did not have to fix the job because I had
focusing on the needs of others in your pro- already been paid, but I believed it was im-
fessional life. Whether you are an attorney, I started this business because I wanted to portant to ensure that I fixed every job that I
legal secretary, paralegal-or even if you are make money for college. I worked at this messed up before I went off to college.
in another profession outside of the law en- business for about two months, including
tirely-you will be far more successful if you four weeks of the summer. While there are As I was buying supplies, I noticed an older
focus on the needs of others. Your work will many entertaining stories I could tell, to man asking a hardware store clerk questions
also be far more fulfilling. make a long story short-after several weeks about various asphalt products. The clerk did
of doing this business I lost a great deal of not know the answers, but I did. I approached
One thing that I have noticed in my many money, had done very poor work and had the man and began answering his questions.
years of dealing with lawyers, both as a failed. Miserably. There were a lot of people I was surprised how much I knew about
lawyer and as a recruiter, is that when you that were upset with me for my shoddy work. asphalt and I must have answered his ques-
stop thinking about yourself in your work and When I did my job the only thing I thought tions for over an hour. Despite the fact that
concentrate on the needs of others, you will about was making money and finishing my I was not a talented asphalt contractor, I did
begin to do well. I have seen this rule repeat work. The customer was certainly not my top know quite a bit about asphalt!
itself over and over again and this rule, I be- priority. I was.
lieve, is one of the largest keys to success. I This man owned a large apartment complex
call this the “I’m Second Rule”. The I’m Sec- Because I absolutely had to make money for and was planning on having his maintenance
ond Rule is built on the realization that when college, I became a garbage man for $5.00 an man do a large resurfacing project on the
it comes to work, our own interests should hour and worked from 5:00 am to 4:00 pm on complex. In our conversation, I told him how
be secondary. The interests of our employer Monday through Friday. I did this throughout much he should be paying for the work, the
and the clients we work for should always be most of the summer. It was not a fun job best material to buy, how to apply it and how
at the top of the list. and the people I worked with left a lot to be to ensure that his maintenance man did a
desired. One day, the driver of the truck I was good job. At the end of the conversation, the
A. How I Learned The I’m Second Rule riding on the back of was pulled over by the man asked me if I would go and look at his
police and arrested for assaulting a woman apartment complex to provide him with more
We all can name a few experiences that have the evening before. I was then delegated to tips.
had a profound effect on our lives. One of my another truck and the driver of this truck told
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CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER 1. 800. 973.1177
Not even thinking about the money (I was a great majority of attorneys out there are this ocean of experience with its waves of
actually interested in the PROCESS-and stuck following the I’m First Rule. You too may ego-centered activity, we experience repeated
helping this man), I went and looked at the follow the I’m First Rule., which will lead you periods of anguish, followed by periods of
complex and then called the man and told to believe that the work you do is simply to temporary relief.
him everything I recommended he do with take care of your own needs. This belief will
this particular asphalt. The man then asked be something that is quickly picked up by oth- Ellen Kei Hua, Wisdom from the East, p, 10,
me for my phone number in case he had any ers-whether they are your employer, or your 1974 (Farout Press)
questions. I hung up the phone feeling good client. In addition, you will be less effective in The fact of the matter is that the reason the
that I had assisted the man with his questions. your work. job of an attorney exists is because people
Throughout my whole exchange with this man, have problems and need other people to
I never expected anything in return. This sort of attitude is engendered in at- interpret and help them solve these problems.
torneys because of the values our society If you are working for a large law firm or cor-
A day or two later the phone in my house rang promotes. In the Western world, many people poration, the reason your job exists is because
again. I was not in the habit of answering the feel that success means having their sensory other attorneys in your firm have work they
phone because I was always afraid it would be and material wants satisfied. This sort of need done and they need someone to help
another complaint! My mother answered the attitude is constantly reinforced and strength- them with it. The job does not exist because
phone and told me it was the man from the ened through a barrage of advertisements and you have a divine right to earn $100,000+ per
hardware store. He wanted me to do the work messages sent out by our society that success year. Nor does the job exist because you have
on the apartment complex for him! I could not and happiness translates into having many something to prove to the world by being an
believe it. He said something to the effect of: possessions. Many attorneys may therefore attorney. The only reason the job exists is
believe that their success as an attorney has because you are presumed to have the skills,
“You care about the work. You will look out for to do with their level of economic accomplish- experience and training to solve these prob-
me. I want you to do this because I know you ment in the profession. Any yet, even when lems that other people have.
will do a better job than anyone else I could they do get these possessions, these same
ever find.” To make a long story short, I made attorneys usually want more possessions, and C. Conclusions
over $3000.00 in just over two days doing this therefore remain quite tormented and still do
job. And the job turned out perfectly! I also did not truly enjoy their work. Imagine you are an employer looking to hire
a great deal of work for this man again over an attorney. Whom would you want to be help-
the years. Under many Eastern philosophies, satisfaction ing you? Would you want someone who is most
and consciousness comes from a different concerned about their own needs, or someone
I took a lot from this lesson. Two summers foundation. Material possessions are con- who is most concerned about your own?
later, I was only twenty years old and I am sidered empty and meaningless unless they
confident I did more driveway resurfacing than are accompanied by an attitude that does not In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Ef-
any other contractor in Michigan. I did this connect their existence with your happiness. fective People, Stephen Covey talks about
work throughout college, law school and even If you have a comfortable life and many pos- “empathetic listening”:
after law school! I loved the work! I owed all sessions, you will enjoy them, but these things
of this success, I believe, to the realization should not be viewed as something that will When I say empathetic listening, I mean lis-
that in business you can never concentrate on ultimately bring you peace of mind and happi- tening with intent to understand. I mean seek-
yourself. Today I literally owe my home and ness. Peace of mind can only come if you are ing first to understand, to really understand.
much of my current motivation to that one freed from emotionally upsetting states. All It’s an entirely different paradigm.
lesson in selflessness-and caring about your emotions are ego centered:
work---that the man in the hardware store Empathetic (from empathy) listening gets you
unknowingly taught me. In the ego-centered state, tensions or anxiety inside another person’s frame of reference.
results in discomfort and distress. To allevi- You look out through it, you see the world the
B. Why So Few Legal Professionals Follow The ate that distress, we look for relief through way they see the world, you understand their
I’m Second Rule distraction. Distraction does give us tempo- paradigm, you understand how they feel.
rary relief, but it does nothing to free us from When your employer or client knows and
Instead of following the I’m Second Rule, the discomfort which will return when another senses that your priority is to satisfy their best
situation distresses us. As we toss about in
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CAREER COUNSELOR’S CORNER 1.800. 973. 1177
interests and that you are empathetic, they’ll
trust you more and want to give you more
work to do. They’ll also want to help you, too.
Get on your employer’s side and away from
your own. As soon as you recognize that you
are second-or embrace this rule even more
-- your professional life will improve.