Some of my best memories (and stories) are from when I was a Scout. Scouts then, as it still is now, wasn’t a particularly cool thing to do. You weren’t going to make it into the yearbook popularity polls or get a girlfriend by being a Scout.
But that was fine.
For me and my motley crew of friends – outcasts, athletes, pranksters, geniuses, wallflowers, loud mouths, Sunday schoolers and gun-nuts – we knew we had the inside scoop on something special.
We learned really cool things like how to start a fire with batteries and steel wool, how to skin a snake and cook it for dinner, and how to shoot a bow.
Things that have absolutely no practical application to my life now.
What I didn’t realize though was that while I was learning all of that “cool” stuff I was really learning something more valuable. I was learning life lessons.
I just didn’t know it.
As a lawyer, and as an advocate and counselor to those in the construction industry, three lessons in particular from my Scouting days seem reoccurring in my career.
When you first become a Scout you get a uniform. Not only is there a particular uniform you have to buy, there’s a particular way you have to wear it, and particular places where you have to put all of your patches.
In the Scouts, appearance counts. Not just in how you wear your uniform, but more importantly, in how you act. Scouts helping the elderly across the street, helping ladies with their grocery bags, and being kind to stranger, are as much a part of the Scout image as the uniform. “Do a good turn daily” is the slogan of the Boy Scouts. As a Scout you join a brotherhood of Scouts worldwide, and just as you should take care in how you wear your uniform, your conduct should not tarnish the uniform you wear.
Whether you’re a Scout, a lawyer, or a contractor, your conduct reflects how other will see you. Be courteous and professional. Review your contracts before signing them because gentlemen know that promises are more than just words on paper. When negotiating, negotiate hard but be reasonable, because it sets the tone for your working relationship and both parties wouldn’t be talking to begin with if they didn’t need what the other is providing. When doing your work do your best because, ultimately, the sum of who you are is what you do. If there are changes, it should be agreed to in writing, both because it’s professional and helps to avoid disputes later on, and disputes (as you already know) have an odd way of spawning further disputes. And, if there’s a dispute, listen first and try to see things from the other side’s vantage point, because there is often more advantages to resolving a dispute than litigating them.
You Need a Moral Compass
Appearances are important but only you know who you are. In the Boy Scouts you learn the Scout Law – A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. That’s a tall order, at times contradictory, and I’ve stumbled many times.
You don’t need to follow the Scout Law. Religion might be a better fit. Or something you’ve learned from someone you admire. Or something you’ve developed entirely on your own. Whatever it may be, you need one. Morality is what separates us from other animals and what makes us uniquely human.
To some, lawyers are perhaps the most amoral of professionals. And they may be right about some lawyers. But not all lawyers, nor would I say, the vast majority of lawyers. Lawyers are trained to understand the law. And laws often have a moral premise. But applying the law to any given set of facts can, at times, be difficult. I’ve had to fire clients, and I’ve had clients fire me, because of differences of opinion. And that’s fine. I’m not a hired gun who cares only about the bottom line, and either should you.
You can be the contractor who burns their subcontractors or the one who treats them like a partner. It’s your choice. You might be able to make a fast buck by burning your subcontractors but it’s just as likely that you’ll get burned as well. So why not take the high road? The air is fresher, the views far better, and in the end you’ll feel much better about yourself.
Good deeds and campfire skits weren’t the only things we did in my troop. We had the occasional fight, we pulled pranks on each other pretty regularly, but the one thing we always did . . . was play poker. Crazy poker with crazy names like Pass the Trash, Elevator, Baseball, Kung Fu, and my favorite (for obvious reasons) Black Murai.
There was a lot of trash talking during our games. And, if you made a bonehead move, you could be sure that would be called out. But that’s what was great about it. You could laugh at others, and laugh at yourself, because you could be yourself.
Lawyering is serious business. Construction is a tough business. But what I’ve learned is that sometimes, not all the times, but sometimes, at the right time and place, you need to let your guard down for a moment. You need to talk honestly with the other side about the strengths and weaknesses of your case, where you did things right and where you could have done things better, because as good as our legal system is at achieving fundamental fairness, human affairs are always best managed and actual fairness most often achieved when self regulated.