Modern Family and ‘Fessing Up

Nancy Glazer is manager of Legal Launch LLC.  The goal of Legal Launch LLC is to provide uplifting, career counseling for 3Ls, recent law school graduates and experienced attorneys.  Nancy offers her clients endless ideas and possibilities to help land them the right job in a competitive market.

I’m not a big fan of evening television programs, but the DVR is always set to Wednesday night’s Modern Family.  If you watch it, you know what I mean; it’s laugh-out-loud funny.  The show hits close to home for most of us because we are the characters or we know them.

Most of us who watch the show grin when we watch the neurosis of Claire, a helicopter parent, navigating every step her children take.  We all know someone like Jay, a divorced father with grown children who married a much younger woman the second time around.  Some of us know what it’s like when our new step-sibling is the same age as our youngest child.

Adding to the show’s popularity is the fact that the writing is so honest.  The characters tell the truth about situations that all of us encounter every day.  For example, we can relate to second wife Gloria’s sweeping regret after the angry, cathartic email she wrote to her daughter-in-law is mistakenly sent.  We understand the disappointment our son feels when he can’t get the attention of the girl he likes.  Perhaps, too, we know how it feels after spilling red grape juice on the one-of-a-kind white living room rug at the home of our 2-year-old daughter’s new friend.  We feel the panic and embarrassment; we feel the stress of making a familiar stinging situation better.

I think that the success of Modern Family is that it makes us feel both comforted and validated to see familiar dilemmas happen to someone else —  even fictional characters.  In fact, it’s funny.  We laugh.

A recurrent theme in Modern Family is the notion of “fessing up.”  While we laugh when the characters are doing their contortions and dancing around the truth, we are also relieved when the real story is publicly shared.  We get the truth.

How does Modern Family pertain to lawyers?

One of the first things I learned from senior lawyers when I started practicing law was to ‘fess up quickly if I made a mistake.  I learned that there is usually always time to fix an error.  The sooner you own up to a problem, the sooner a remedy can be made.   If you drafted the wrong part of a contract or if you omitted a good argument in a brief, you shouldn’t dance around the truth.

We’ve all been there.  We all understand making a mistake.  It’s the truth, what really happened, that always makes perfect sense.  We get it.

If we ‘fess up, our colleagues know they can trust us; we’re not hiding anything.  Firm partners know they can trust us to be real with them and with their clients.  They trust that we have good judgment, something that is not reflected by our law school GPAs.  The mistakes we make in law can typically be fixed.  Often, they are not a big deal.

Like the characters and situations created in Modern Family, we can all relate to making mistakes.  It is our actions after we discover those mistakes that measure our character.  Hopefully, after the dust settles, we can laugh.

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