Being a Great Lawyer Requires an Even Better Person

Who am I? In my career, I am a lawyer. I love being a lawyer. I mean, I really love the practice of law and all the experiences it provides to me. I would not want to do anything else.

I started my firm as a solo practitioner with one trusting client and a financed loan from a relative in 1987. It's been a great experience. Fortunately, I paid the loan back and the client is still a client and a trusted friend as well.

I often share with younger people, who talk to me about their interest in becoming a lawyer, that never once in my 26 years of practice have I ever looked at my watch or a clock and wished that time would pass more quickly. I am constantly amazed how fast my days pass. There never seems to be enough time in the day.

In my practice I learn about many different people, businesses and organizations; and I am constantly challenged to understand complex matters, provide planning to avoid problems and help solve problems when they occur. Life is never boring and I feel blessed to have been a part of so many people's lives. I have hopefully made their lives better through my efforts as a lawyer, advisor, friend and confidant.

I also am a husband and a father. Being a lawyer has provided me with many opportunities to provide a good life for my family. I am extremely blessed to have a loving, supportive and smart woman, Dori, as my wife. We have been married for 27 years. We have three great sons; our oldest son, Tucker, 19, a student at the University of Michigan, and twin 16-year-old boys, Conor and Casey who are finishing their sophomore year in high school.

Lawyers are People Too

While managing a busy career and multiple commitments I have done my level best to maintain balance with my roles as a lawyer in my practice, and my family life. Within reason, we have always encouraged and allowed our sons to explore and pursue their interests in academic activities, sports, pets, music and more. Our family has also been blessed with a son, Casey, who is autistic and teaches us many things about ourselves and life that not everyone has the opportunity to understand. Among many things, he has taught me what courage really means and how to enjoy very simple things. Every holiday Casey proudly proclaims that that particular holiday "was the best ever" - even if the turkey was burned, his brother broke his favorite Christmas present or the whole family had the flu. While Casey is truly a blessing, his struggles caused by his autism challenges every member of our family in many different ways. Through the grace of God, the prayers of many, our love for each other and the ability to not take ourselves too seriously, we face these challenges and cherish our lives together.

The Journey

One of the experiences that has impacted our family in many ways was our son Tucker's hockey career. Tucker began playing hockey at a very young age and, just this spring, as a result of the culmination of many factors, has in all likelihood completed his final season of organized and competitive hockey. It would take much too long to recount all the special things we have experienced the last 15 years, but aside from the many weekends in hotels, driving home on Sunday nights after weekends away through snow and ice storms, there were many special moments. As a family, we witnessed incredible accomplishments by a young boy and, in recent years, a young man as a player, teammate, and leader.

We met incredible people in our hockey life, all of whom did things to provide support and special experiences for not only Tucker, but our younger sons as well, as Tucker's "little brothers." One example was to have a group of incredibly sensitive coaches who allowed Casey to make inspirational speeches before games in the locker room to Tucker's hockey team and even named Casey as the team's most valuable "player/person" in a Chicago tournament where the team won a championship. As far as sports go, we now have the opportunity to continue our support and cheer our son Conor on in his efforts as a very good high school lacrosse player.

We also love our time together laughing at the escapades of our two Labrador Retrievers, Jake and Ginger, and cats, Max and Shark.

The Challenge

The point of my sharing a little glimpse of my personal life through the information above was to point out that I believe that I am an effective good lawyer for my clients because I have taken the time to be good to myself as a person and, in turn, good for my family. However, the challenge is how to navigate the tension between being available to take care of my clients' needs and taking the time necessary to support and enjoy my family.

We all experience the challenge of trying to perform at high levels in our professions to satisfy bosses, clients, customers and others who define our success in our careers. This challenge is further affected by incredible technological advances where we basically are "connected" to each other 24 hours a day 7 days a week as a result of iPhones, BlackBerrys and other similar devices. Recently, I have personally been struggling with situations where clients have been emailing, texting and calling me during the evening hours and each day of the week, including Saturdays and Sundays asking for assistance with their legal matters.

Practicing law is not a 9 to 5 job. Not many professions, careers or jobs are these days, especially in light of the difficult economic environment we find ourselves in. I understand and accept the fact that my work requires me to be available on an extended basis and, often times, provide service to clients in the evenings and on weekends. That's what it takes to be a great lawyer.

That being said, to be a great lawyer you also need to be a good person. Taking time to enjoy your family and being available to support your spouse and kids in their lives is also important. In addition, perhaps just taking time to walk your dog and think makes you a better person and also helps you to be an even better lawyer.

Onward We Go

So, as we go forward together, I look forward to continuing to provide the services and support that my clients have come to expect. However, that commitment has some qualifications in that unless I specifically commit to provide services or access to me during the evening hours or on Saturdays or Sundays, clients need to understand that emailing, texting or calling me with requests for immediate services may not be responded to depending on my other commitments that I may be fulfilling to be a "good person".

I am thankful for all of you and it is a privilege and honor to provide you with professional services. I know we can all work together to be great at what we do while taking the time to be "good" for ourselves and our families as well.

Your thankful lawyer,

Dan A. Penning