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The Ripple of the Radical Sabbatical

On April 1, 2005, I shut down my law practice for a one year sabbatical.  And in one of the best received columns I’ve published, I wrote about my decision in a piece titled Laying Down the Law. The radical thought of taking a break from my law practice had seemed to come out of thin air (although the notion may have come from a Jack Johnson song). Nevertheless, the idea quickly seized me.  And with a wife who was all game, it quickly became set in stone.

The question people ask most about the sabbatical is “what did you do?” (Second is “how could you afford it?” The honest answer is I couldn’t.)  The shortest possible truthful answer to what I did:  I read, I wrote (not the least of which is a not-so-good novel), and spent time with my wife, children, and friends.  And most of all, I thought about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, which by January 2006 was approaching fast as my sabbatical fund approached zero.

In early February 2006, I received a phone call from a business client telling me he had the perfect case for me and asking if I was back practicing law.  In an instant, the radical sabbatical came to an end.  And in that moment, all the grappling with what I wanted to do with the my life vanished as I became a reborn litigator.  Over the next several days, I devoured the file.  Researched the law. Developed a strategy.  I was in total flow.  I knew exactly who I was meant to be.

And so, taking stock this 5th anniversary, the question has evolved from “what did I do on sabbatical” to “what did the sabbatical do to me?” I believe that the meaning of a thing is the result it produces over time.  Actions make ripples in our own lives and the lives of others.  I came to understand that the meaning of my life will be nothing more and nothing less than the result it produces.  After 5 years, a large part of the meaning of my sabbatical is a sustained hunger for the life of law, a desire to be the best, and the energy to satisfy both cravings.

But, this insight only begged other questions, two of which were: What do I think is the right way for me to make a difference and what do I think is the best way to do it? On both counts, I answered “being a lawyer.”  And, so, I am a litigator because it is what I do best, and I represent individuals and small businesses injured (physically or financially) by others because it is the right thing for me to do.  Representing the underdog and the working class in cases that will make a positive difference in their lives is a high calling in my book.  It doesn’t hurt that I make a pretty good live doing it and, I freaking love it.

The radical sabbatical continues to ripple, including my decision to “double down on the law.” By this I mean that on this anniversary of my pulling back, I have made the deliberate decision to deepen my commitment to the craft of law and the business of law.  My focus, my energy, my time, my experience, my knowledge, my skills, my instincts, my emotions, and my beliefs have been anted up and slid to the center of the table.  And although I accept that life is capable of dealing a cruel hand at anytime, I sit confidently knowing that right this very minute, I am where I am supposed to be.

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