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Lighting Up The Path Ahead

When I started my law practice, I followed the advice that was given in the book, How To Open Up Your Own Law Practice Without Missing A Meal.  The book recommended that I walk into other lawyers’ offices (without an appointment) and ask the lawyers if they had an extra office that was available for rent.  If there was an office available, the book instructed that I then ask if I could trade my research and writing skills for rent.  The book further advised that for those lawyers who did not have an office to rent, I was to ask them: (1) if they had any research and writing work for me to do for an agreed-upon hourly rate, and (2) if they would be willing to refer clients to me that they didn’t want.

I did exactly as the book instructed.  I dressed up in a suit and drove downtown to the First National Bank building where my dad’s lawyer’s office was located.  He was the first lawyer I talked to.  He didn’t have any desire to rent an office to me; however, he referred me to another lawyer in the building (Jack Boos) who didn’t have an extra office, but was willing to let me follow him around and sit in on appointments to get a “feel” for what it was like to operate a private law practice.

I divided up my time between following the lawyer around and asking other lawyers in the downtown area if they would rent an office to me.  After a couple of weeks of talking to lawyers, I found a very generous and good-hearted Catholic attorney, John Mathers, who was willing to do exactly what the book had recommended – allow me to use one of his offices in exchange for legal research and writing services.

I quickly realized that law school had been a waste of time.  The three years I spent there didn’t prepare me for the real world.  Although I had taken classes in contract law, property law, criminal law, etc., there was very little training on how to run and operate a successful law practice.  My feeling at the time was that law school should consist of one year of intense study and then two years of actual practice under the direction of one or more mentors.  I still feel that way.

I am a strong advocate of mentoring.  Mentoring is a process in which a person operates under the direction and guidance of a trusted friend, coach, counselor or teacher. Some examples of occupations where mentoring is common include actors, athletes, authors, musicians, politicians, the building trades (apprenticeship), medical professionals (residency), and business professionals.

During the time I was looking for an office, I met several experienced lawyers who encouraged me to “go for it” and told me that if I ever needed help or advice, to feel free to contact them.  This turned out to be a great blessing for me.  I ended up taking them up on their offers.  There was my dad’s lawyer, Bernie Ghiglieri, who helped me with general questions about clients and the practice of law; Elmer Gury, who helped me with matters involving probate and real estate law; Gary Rafool, who paid me to do research and writing projects for him, and helped me with matters involving bankruptcy law; Frank Picl, who helped me with matters involving criminal law; Tracy Pitzen, who helped me with matters involving contract and business law; and Ray Rose, a well-known injury and malpractice attorney who paid me to do research and writing projects for him, and allowed me to participate in hearings, depositions, and one of his jury trials. All of the above-mentioned attorneys became mentors of mine.  They not only provided valuable knowledge and advice, but also introduced me to other professionals who gave me guidance and assistance.

From a business standpoint, there are very few things that are more rewarding than building up a network of knowledgeable advisors.  It’s not enough to choose the right career path.  For a person to be successful in business, he (or she) must also find one or more mentors who are willing to assist with personal growth and development.  A good mentor shines a lantern on the path for you to follow.  Without a mentor you can easily stumble in the darkness and make a decision that causes you great hardship (a decision that can take years to recover from).  You are always in danger of choosing a path that leads to ruin.

Do you have a mentor that you turn to in times of need?  If you don’t, here are some reasons why you should consider (and would benefit from) developing a relationship with a mentor:

• Honest Feedback – Although friends, family members, fellow employees, and colleagues may have your best interests at heart, they are usually not experienced practitioners in the area where you need help.  Even if they do have experience, they tend to be “too close” to you.  They may want to avoid saying something that could be harmful to your relationship, or they may inadvertently end up advising you to follow a direction that benefits them more than you.  A true mentor is there for one primary purpose: to give you guidance and advice.  There is an expectation (and an implied promise) that the advice will be honest and to the point.

• Been There, Done That – Since a good mentor has the benefit of years of experience, he can assist you with any new challenges that may come your way.  If he can’t help you, he usually knows where you can find help.  Any time you’re in unchartered waters, your mentor, who has already “been there, done that,” can help you sort through the options that are available to you.  He can also provide moral support for any decision you ultimately make.

• Inspiration – A good mentor is someone who is accomplished and successful; someone who has seen his share of failure and hardship; someone who views every failure and obstacle as an opportunity for growth.  Such a mentor can inspire and encourage you to forge ahead during those dark times when it appears as though the whole world is ready to come crashing down on top of you.

• Caring Guidance – A good mentor is someone who really cares about helping others.  Even though he is expected to give you cold, hard, detached advice, he doesn’t stop there.  Out of genuine concern for your growth and success, he pushes you to new heights that you never thought were possible.  He not only ignores your own self-imposed limitations, but challenges you to break through the barriers that are holding you back.  If he does his job correctly, you end up discovering a whole new world that was previously hidden from you.

• No Financial Cost – Your relationship with your mentor is not ordinarily a business relationship where you are required to pay him for his services.  A true mentor is looking for something that money can’t provide.  He realizes that by helping you he will also ultimately benefit from the experience.  What’s the benefit to him?  Greater confidence, self-respect, and the satisfaction that he has been able to use his gifts to help you rise to your full potential.

Not very many people know this, but when I decided to open my own law practice I took on a silent partner and mentor – the same person who helped me get through law school.  This new partner had been my spiritual mentor in law school and I wanted to make sure she was by my side assisting me throughout my career.  She’s still my partner today.  Her name is Mary.  Her parents’ names were Anne and Joachim, and when she was in her teens, she became the mother of God.

Next week I’ll tell you more about my relationship with my lifetime partner and mentor.

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2 Responses to “Lighting Up The Path Ahead”

  1. Sister Roberta Houlihan, CSJ Says:

    Harry, what a heart-warming account of “getting started”, including the need for a mentor – or mentors – and your chosen one, Mary, God’s Mother.
    I give Joseph lots of credit, too, for his counseling, all through my own counseling days, and earlier. Your accounts are messages that are sorely needed, and I admire your ability to get the word out where it’s needed.
    Blessings to you and your family! Sister Roberta

  2. Bro. Peter Says:


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