Those of you who attended the State Bar of Michigan inaugural luncheon in October may remember the national anthem being sung by Alice McAllister Tillman, choir director at an Ann Arbor middle school and vocalist extraordinaire. Alice and her brothers, Maestro Willie J. McAllister Jr., Dewayne (vocals), Peter (percussion), and daughter Victoria (oboe) recently performed in their annual “Once Upon a December Eve” show at the Garden Theater on Woodward Avenue in Detroit. My family looks forward to attending this show every year and this year’s performance was, as always, amazing!
One of the songs Alice sang this year was “My Grown up Christmas List” by David Foster (composition) and Linda Thompson (lyrics) and sung by many, including Amy Grant, Kelly Clarkson and Natalie Cole. Some of the lyrics are:
So here's my lifelong wish
My grown up Christmas list
Not for myself
But for a world in need
No more lives torn apart
That wars would never start
And time would heal all hearts
And everyone would have a friend
And right would always win
And love would never end
This is my grown up Christmas list
Alice’s incredible voice singing these lyrics was deeply moving and inspirational to me. As a matrimonial attorney, I have seen so many people whose lives are torn apart, whose hearts will never heal, who have no friends and feel no love or worse, hatred and disdain. They appear at the little round conference table in my office, across the mediation table, and in the courthouse. I don’t want to be too maudlin, here. In my experience, the majority of people exit the divorce process with a new lease on life, realizing their prior lives were not sustainable and the future holds great promise. They have excellent support systems, good co-parenting relationships with their former spouses and healthy relationships with their children. They blossom into people not focused on their own problems, but people helping others with theirs.
But there are some whose situations seem so pitiful: they have a poor relationship with their children, are incapable of picking up the pieces and moving on; have no family to speak of; and/or are financially destitute. As Alice belted out this heartfelt Christmas list, these are the people who came to mind and I couldn’t help but think their circumstances could have been helped by an attorney.
We can help our clients avoid ending up on Linda Thompson’s Christmas list by:
- Explaining the Rule of Law, its role in the client’s life and the need to accept and make the best of it. Railing against the Rule of Law within a particular case sets everyone, from the children to the judge, up for failure. If the Rule of Law is the problem, talk to your substantive law section about lobbying for change.
- Scrutinizing clients’ stories for partial truths, bias and objective credibility;
- Helping reframe clients’ points of view to be less personal and more situational;
- Parsing out which, if any, issues from the past remain relevant today;
- Presenting options;
- Encouraging accountability;
- Modeling responsibility, hard work and respect for others;
- Being eternally optimistic and positive;
- Defining and prioritizing objectives and focusing energy accordingly;
- Recommending and helping connect clients with support systems;
- Asking ourselves when a client makes a loaded statement, “What would Yoda say?” Probably, “Anger - let go of it you must; fear - consume you it must not. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side of the force are they."
With these thoughts in mind, I would like to offer up my own Christmas list, one that is not as global as Linda Thompson’s, but rather, tailored to the practice of law. Here goes:
So here's my lawyer’s wish
My Bar Prez Christmas list
Not for myself
But for clients in need
No more lives torn apart
Court wars will never start
And wisdom heals all hearts
And everyone would have counsel
And right would be agreed
Through love that never ends
This is my Bar Prez Christmas list
Go ahead, try singing it out loud. Here’s the link to Kelly Clarkson singing it. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to hear me sing it. Maybe some day, I’ll get Alice to record my version. (wink)
Lori is a shareholder at Nichols, Sacks, Slank, Sendelbach, Buiteweg, & Solomon, P.C.