Dan Harper is vice president, corporate counsel and secretary for Océ North America, Inc., a Canon Group Co. He is also president of the Chicago Chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel. The views expressed herein are the opinions of the author and do not reflect the position or viewpoint of Océ North America Inc., Canon Inc. or any of the Océ or Canon companies.
“I’m sorry to say so but, sadly, it’s true that Bang-ups and Hang-ups can happen to you. You can get all hung up in a prickle-ly perch. And your gang will fly on. You’ll be left in a Lurch….You will come to a place where the streets are not marked. Some windows are lighted. But mostly they’re darked. A place you could sprain both your elbow and chin!” “Oh, The Places You’ll Go!” By Dr. Seuss
Most lawyers live in an adversarial environment. In-house lawyers are no exception. When I first started practicing, the adversarial nature of law was fairly obvious in that my practice involved a good portion of courtroom work. Negotiating contracts and workouts also have their moments. The lingering effects of the courtroom and other experiences today color all of my thinking, even though I do not personally litigate cases anymore (I still negotiate!). These lawyerly experiences color the way we see the “other,” “non-legal” world as well.
A lawyer’s unique perspective on life is often taken for granted. I remember a few years back discussing the perils of Facebook with one of my children. My comments were laced with cynicism and my advice filled with caution. After all, the world is a bad place, filled with bad people who will try to do you harm – right. Well, yes and no.
The world can be a bad place and yes, there are some people who will do you harm if they are given the opportunity. But, the world as whole is a pretty nice place, and most people are good people trying to do the right thing. “Except when they don’t. Because, sometimes, they won’t.” (Dr. Seuss). In our professional lives, we are constantly on the lookout for “the people who don’t.” When one confronts cheats, shysters, deceivers, maligners and malingerers on a daily basis (no these are NOT clients), one gets used to the concept that people often have hidden agendas, lie to get what they want, hide the facts, twist the truth and resort to intellectually dishonest approaches in their own self interest – even outside the “legal world”.
It is the people who sometimes don’t or won’t do the right thing from whom I was trying to protect my child. What some believe is a pessimistic view of the world, arising out of my experiences as a lawyer, served as a guide to the rules I applied in protecting my child. The concept that someone would harm him does not resonate with my child. From a youngster’s perspective, he is surrounded by people always trying to do the right thing, always looking out for his best interest. But I know better. Is this bad? Do I have an awful life because I always look beyond words and behind actions to try to determine what someone really means or wants, not taking anyone at face value?
No, it is not bad. It just “is.” It is the lot of the lawyer to view the world with suspicion. Our professional experiences cannot help but to give us an edge up on trouble spotting (which by its very nature means we are looking for trouble). That is one of our jobs after all. If you are good at it, it will carry over into your nonprofessional life because it is in your blood, it is your essence, a part of what makes you what you are.
I don’t think that we will ever “all just be friends” while here on this Earth. However, we can harness our legal instincts and try a bit harder to look at the non-professional part of our lives through a rosier set of glasses. To my clients I say – beware, I’ll be there to protect you from the harm that lurks around every corner.
To my child I provide a final word of advice from a man much, much wiser than I: “So be sure when you step. Step with care and great tact and remember that ‘Life’s a Great Balancing Act.’ Just never forget to be dexterous and deft. And never mix up your right foot with your left.” Dr. Seuss