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Lessons from Dogs - The S.E. Farris Law Firm
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Lessons from Dogs

Regular readers of this space may remember my dear dog Judge. He died several years ago- I was convinced it was only one or two years, but my wife and the pictures on social media reminded me that it was much longer ago than that. I still remember him fondly and miss him.

Perhaps tired of me asking for a dog like a five year old boy, my wife (who never had a dog as a child) acquiesced to a new one. We adopted BogieBacall from the local animal shelter. I’m not sure if she is a legitimate tax write off, but she is now Chief Executive Pawfficer (CEP) of my office and comes to work with me on days that don’t include meetings or motions. I have shamelessly thrown a guilt blanket on opposing counsel for trips to court that make Bacall spend her day at home.

Bacall lays around the office when she is here. She insists that I get up and take her to walk every couple of hours. At first, this seemed like a nuisance, but there is something to be said for regular breaks to go outside. It is relaxing and clears my head. The walk back with a stinky baggie is humbling and reminds me exactly what I am- a doggie porter. Practicing law often entails carrying stinky baggies for someone else but they tend to be more metaphorical. These are real.

It was a true Farrisism miracle that a local dog park reopened membership right after we got Bacall and we joined. The park is about ten acres where dogs run off the leash. If you don’t have a dog, you can’t appreciate how important running and playing is to their wellbeing. My CEP behaves much better when her day includes exercise. I probably do too, although I rarely run a fever let alone around a park.

I was apprehensive on our first visit to the dog park. Bacall is a lab mix and a pretty big pooch, but she is far from the biggest dog there. She is protective, not aggressive and I feared she would hurt a smaller dog or get hurt by a bigger one.

Like most of my worries, this one amounted to nothing. Big dogs don’t bark much and are always the gentlest creatures in the place. Even stereotypically mean pit bulldogs are kind to the other dogs and people around them. Little dogs bark a lot and bare their teeth first when two dogs meet but they inherently know better than to start trouble.  

Great Danes and pit bulls are self-aware, powerful beasts that don’t need to convince the other dogs of their prowess. Chihuahuas put up a big façade as though proactive barking will ward off trouble. 

People are no different. The loudest, most aggressive lawyers are typically the least confident and least capable. It is hard to remember that when you have just been bitten of course, by a dog or a lawyer.  For me, the scariest lawyers are the calm, quiet ones- they will beat you before you realize that the fight is on.

Dogs at the park chase one another and when caught, the perceived prey, big or small, inevitably rolls onto its back rather than putting up a fight. The chasing dogs recognize the “little dog defense” and never press their advantage. In fact, chasing dogs become chased dogs at this point and the former prey joins the chasing pack.

I adopted this tactic long ago when I get in a pinch while representing a client. Confessing my problem is a much better way to get mercy from an opponent than bluster. It isn’t foolproof of course. Showing weakness to a little dog is a good way to get bitten. I mean little lawyer, not little dog. Even a little dog doesn’t bite when the other dog exposes its vulnerability.

When dogs know the rules, they are calmer. They are pack animals, and instinctively they want to be accepted in the group. Once in, fear and conflicts disappear.

Acceptance, lots of exercise, and the occasional bacony treat are all Bacall requires. She has no shame in rolling over for a belly rub, whether it is for praise or just comfort. She seems to adore and respect me. She thinks I am the lead dog, and her trust is palpable. It could just be that she can’t reach the treat jar and I can. When I get home on days that she didn’t get to the office, she doesn’t hide the fact that she is glad to see me. No matter how rough work has been, coming home to a wagging tail will always brighten my mood.

I am fortunate to practice in a friendly legal community. We aren’t a true pack, just the opposite. We are all adversaries, either because our clients have conflicting goals or because our businesses require us to compete for clients in the first place. Nevertheless, most lawyers I know adhere to the rules and try to get along with one another. Even the little dogs in the Bar figure that out eventually and stop barking and biting.

It isn’t a bad goal to try to be the person my dog thinks I am. I will refrain from rubbing my opponent’s belly, but I wouldn’t mind a bacony treat.

©2019 under analysis llc. under analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Spencer Farris is the founding partner of The S.E. Farris Law Firm in St Louis, Missouri. This article was barely finished when Bacall got roughed up at the park by a larger dog, proving that even big ones can be jerks. Comments or criticisms about this column may be sent c/o this newspaper or directly to Under Analysis via email at farris@farrislaw.net.

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