Rethinking success: Justice Fred Lewis' remarks at the 25th anniversary celebration of the St. Thomas Law Review.

AuthorSilver, Jay Sterling
PositionSt. Thomas Law Review 25th Anniversary Issue

Longtime Florida Supreme Court Justice Fred Lewis, a straight shooting, folksy man who has earned enormous respect for his contributions both on and off the bench, spoke in the spring of 2013 at the St. Thomas Law Review's 25th Anniversary Celebration. I assumed he would talk about legal issues or the professional responsibility of attorneys, throw in some war stories, and give a pep talk about the practice of law. "Do good as you seek to do well" and "keep your chin up" are the normal fare in a speech to eager law students poised to step into the rough and tumble world of practice.

While his talk included pinches of each of those, his theme was very different and deeply personal. If you would have heard a recording of his remarks, but did not know who he was speaking to, you would have had no way of guessing where he was.

As he walked among the tables of law students, faculty, and alumni, microphone in hand, Justice Lewis advised us to reformulate the central purpose in our personal and professional lives: instead of pouring all our efforts into constructing the perfect life, which even this youthful audience may have understood to be a futile enterprise, he advised that we focus on living the life we have in a perfect manner.

His point, which did not particularly resonate with me at the time, kept bubbling up in the days and weeks that followed. Although St. Thomas University School of Law is a Catholic university and the theme has a spiritual feel, it was secular. Lewis never suggested we accept our particular lot as what is supposed to be or that living "perfectly" is grounded in a particular set of religious principles.

His message was simpler. Many attorneys just do not like what they do, or, if they do, they do not like the conditions they do it in. That fact, coupled with the knowledge that they are unlikely or unable to change things much, takes an immense psychological toll on them and those around them. It can transform an otherwise pleasant and decent human being into a creature who, if they were to view their own behavior through a Rawlsian veil of ignorance, would condemn it.

Justice Lewis' point was not that we should abandon our efforts to improve our lives...

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