Publication year2022
CitationVol. 35 No. 5 Pg. 46
Vol. 35 No. 5 Pg. 46
Utah Bar Journal
October, 2022


The Law Firm and the Monastery: Five Lessons on Living with Change

by Michael Patrick O’Brien

As I watched my friends – the monks from the old Trappist monastery in Northern Utah –cope for the last five years with the closure of their beloved Huntsville abbey, I never dreamed I’d have to try to emulate their fine example of living with significant change. Then the 150-year-old law firm where I had worked for almost four decades closed its doors.

Due to severely changing forces in the Salt Lake City legal market – including new intense competition for talent and clients from global mega-firms – my law firm made the difficult decision to wind up its business. Some thirty lawyers (including me) from my firm, known as Jones, Waldo, Holbrook & McDonough, have joined another legacy Utah firm, Parsons Behle, & Latimer.

I hope and believe this decision will help us confront the onslaught from the legal leviathans. It is a good strategy, but not without its consequences.

I started at Jones Waldo right after law school ended in 1986 and never left. I enthusiastically applied to this wonderful workplace a concept the Trappist forefathers had coined a thousand years ago to describe the charism of the monks. Thus, I became “a lover of the brethren and the place.”

Needless to say, the sudden demise of the only place you’ve worked during your entire adult life is traumatic. When asked what emotion he felt about these circumstances, Mark Tolman – one of my fine law partners – said, “All of them.” Surprisingly, it is possible to feel grief, fear, sadness, and uncertainty at the same exact moment you are feeling excitement, hope, anticipation, and gratitude.

As I’ve navigated my way through these challenging times, I’ve realized they are not much different from what my friends the Utah monks experienced during the last few years. Beginning in the 1970s, after a family divorce, I basically grew up at the Huntsville monastery with the monks as surrogate fathers. I tell this story in my new book, Monastery Mornings. See Michael Patrick O’Brien, MONASTERY MORNINGS: MY UNUSUAL BOYHOOD AMONG THE SAINTS AND MONKS (Paraclete Press 2021).

The Utah monastery – founded seventy-five years ago in July 1947 – closed its doors in 2017 due to a variety of changing forces in the monastic world. A dozen or so of the remaining monks had to go somewhere else. Some joined other abbeys. Most...

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