Puppies, manners, and lawyering

Puppies, manners, and lawyering
Summer 2015 brought a new puppy to our family. Her name is Luna and she is a Portuguese Water Dog. As one of my law partners so cleverly stated, “When you have kids, getting a family pet is not a matter of if — it’s a matter of when.”

Of course, most significantly, being the owner of a puppy is a constant reminder of good manners. Not only are you regularly scooping poop, you are also training your puppy not to jump, not to nip, not to chew shoes, not to beg for human food during meal times, not to bark at people . . .

I wish us lawyers (professionals) also focused more on good manners. Frankly, I wish we as human beings focused more on good manners.

Recently, I was in the Toronto airport heading toward U.S. customs for a family vacation. I have all the carry-on bags and am supervising the two kids. My spouse has the cart filled with luggage and car seats. The pathway from where you pick up your luggage for U.S. connections to U.S. customs is narrow. I stop for a second to turn and make sure the kids are right behind me.

At that moment, a woman (guess early 20s) rushes past us, almost knocking the kids over in her wake. She then realizes that the entire line stops in just about three more metres due to the sheer number of people present. I now have to wait behind her for the next 20 minutes as the line slowly moves forward. I’m furious.

She stops to tie her shoe at the exact moment the line begins to move forward. I say: “I’ll guess I’ll run ahead of you now?” She replies with: “I don’t like kids,” which makes absolutely no sense to me at all given that her darting ahead of me has now cemented herself immediately next to two tired, hungry children.

Then I’m on another flight. I witness another passenger violently shove the seat in front of them (that passenger had reclined their seat slightly). The shove was so forceful it upset several nearby beverages. No doubt that when the seat is reclined there is less room for the person behind. With two kids I’m envious of anyone who is able to recline their seat for a snooze. But a violent shove? Really?

Maybe these people need a puppy. I’ve also realized that training a puppy is remarkably similar to practising law. Here are my top 10 similarities between puppies and lawyering:

10. Investment of time in training early on pays off in spades later on.

9. Consistency is critical. Getting different messages from different team members sabotages good training.

8. Stay calm under pressure. Yes, the puppy might pee on the floor when your guests arrive. Worse things could happen.

7. Sometimes, someone you are trying to train communicates with you in unexpected ways. Be open to new methods of communication. For instance, it turns out that chewing on my pant leg means “I need to go out to pee” and not “I’m trying to sabotage your pants.”

6. Exposure to as many different places, people, and personalities decreases anxiety to future new experiences.

5. Eating healthy and getting plenty of exercise help concentration.

4. Plenty of sleep helps concentration.

3. Search for reasons for the underperformance and invest in additional training. Consultants can help (despite my comments in my last column).

2. Spending time with others makes other unpleasant things more bearable. For instance, watching TV with the dog makes even Donald Trump (almost) tolerable. Working as a team on a file similarly makes difficult files much more bearable.

1. Appreciate what you have. No puppy (or person) is perfect.

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