“Beware the Ides of March,” a soothsayer warned Julius Caesar in Shakespeare’s famous historical tragedy. But Caesar didn’t heed the seer’s premonition, and on that fateful day (March fifteenth) was assassinated by a group of dagger-wielding Roman senators- some of whom he considered political allies and even personal friends. Shakespeare succinctly captured Caesar’s betrayed surprise with the immortal line, “Et tu, Brute?”
Now, more than two millennia later (by the Julian calendar), the ides of March is virtually synonymous with the word “beware” – literally, to “be wary” or “be aware” of what challenges and dangers the future may hold. This awareness, of both the present moment and possible future, is one of the lawyer’s most useful tools because it helps us understand and solve people’s problems. So it’s useful to consider the different components of awareness, and how they work together.
The core of awareness is conscious communication: paying attention to details, listening closely and clearly conveying our perspective. Often that means reading between the lines-hearing what people say but also don’t say (for example, in body language). It’s also about listening to our inner voice- trusting our intuition and following our instincts. Coupled with legal expertise, intuitive awareness enables attorneys to meaningfully improve people’s lives, whether we’re helping sibling rivals negotiate their parents’ estate in good faith or arguing a client’s case in court. Making a positive difference is one of the most fulfilling things about being a lawyer, and awareness enhances our ability to do that.
But the complex, high-stakes nature of our profession sometimes makes us the target of people’s anger, so awareness can also be a matter of life and death. For instance, I once received a death threat from a disgruntled client, and I’ll always remember July 1, 1993 – the day an unhappy client went on a shooting rampage, killing his lawyers and others in the neighborhood of my office.
Looking back on the conflict situations I’ve experienced in my practice, I see that the warning signs have always been there from day one; I just ignored them. But I’ve learned and grown from my mistakes, so now I feel more confident about being able to spot problems early on and deal with them responsively.
Failing to “beware the Ides of March” did Caesar in. Don’t make the same fatal error. Use intuitive awareness to defuse conflicts before they escalate and become the lawyer you want to be.
About the author
John O’Grady leads a full service estate and trust law firm in San Francisco. He served as the 2012 Chair of BASF’s Estate Planning, Trust & Probate Section His practice includes Estate Planning & Administration, Probate & Trust Litigation, Collaborative Practice, Mediation, Conflict Coaching, Elder Law & Taxation.