Keeping Balls in the Air and Getting Ahead
In this series of posts, I’ve been sharing my background, to give you a sense of the kind of person I grew into, at the time when I considered taking on the case of the Castillo family, who wanted me to defend them in a suit against DuPont. Their son Johnny had been born blind, after his mother had been
exposed to a toxic fungicide that caused birth defects.
But that was a while away – long before that, I was still feeling my way into the law.
It wasn’t until I started working full-time and attending law school at night that I realized how easily I can become bored when I am not engaged and totally focused on something. Looking back, I recognized that my undergrad studies didn’t hold my attention because the pace was too slow for me. There were too many distractions that held my interest more than those classes did.
Now that I was more focused than I’d ever been before, however, I had no free time for anything else. My life outside of work and school was nearly nonexistent. This, of course, wasn’t the ideal way to start a marriage. I never had enough time to nurture my new relationship, let alone enjoy the so-called honeymoon period.
It turns out that my mind works in a very linear and logical way—two great traits for a budding attorney.
I typically see things in lists and have the ability to parse out each point so I can analyze it better. It didn’t matter whether I was writing appellate briefs on the statute of frauds, punitive damages, or the exclusion of a witness; I’d always look at each issue and easily decide how I wanted to organize and dissect it before moving on. Before I knew it, and with very little effort, I’d have the whole skeleton of an argument in front of me to talk through and refine. It may not be a perfect system, but it works for me.
I spent 1981 and 1982 working fifty-five hours a week as an accountant while also completing my first two years of law school. During the fall semesters of those first two years I would take off only Thanksgiving and Christmas day. My spring semesters were no better. I used to spend endless hours dreaming about my third year, when I hoped and believed I could just be a “normal” student and clerk fifteen hours a week at a law firm somewhere in Miami.
It didn’t turn out quite that way. The third year of law school was anything but a dream.
I interviewed for a coveted clerk’s position in the tax department at Greenberg Traurig, a top-tier firm in Miami that now has offices all over the world. At the end of the interview, the hiring partner said, “We’ll get back to you within a week.”
“So far so good,” I thought as I left their office, believing I had nailed it. The very next day, while I was on campus, I crossed paths with Dr. Charlie Calhoun, the chairman of the accounting program. While I was in graduate school I was in charge of the accounting clinic that helped students understand complicated concepts they might have had difficulty grasping.
Charlie said, “Jim, I was about to give you a call.”
“Oh yeah? About what?”
“I have a position for you in the accounting department,” he said.
“What type of position?”
“Teaching two cost-accounting classes every morning at 8 a.m. for $1,500 per class, per semester. What do you think?” Dr. Calhoun was genuinely excited to present this opportunity to me, which of course made me feel really good.
“Sounds great. I’ll take it!” I said without thinking.
Wait a minute, what about the clerking position I just applied for? What if I got that, too? How could I ever take on so much at once?
Naturally, the very next day I got a call from the hiring partner at Greenberg Traurig offering me the clerking job.
As the type of guy who not only likes to ride in overdrive but also excels at it, I accepted that position as well. In my overzealousness, I created a schedule that was just as jam-packed, if not more so, as my first two years of law school. I had just committed to taking eighteen credits a semester, clerking fifteen hours a week, and teaching accounting to eighty students every morning at 8 a.m.
Yeah, it was a grind, but it was worth it. Some very good and some bad developments (depending on how you look at them) came out of that overwhelming third year of law school.
Quite unexpectedly, my teaching position led me to start a side business representing professional football players. I know it seems out of the blue, but one of my students was Keith Griffin, the brother of Archie Griffin, who was the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner ever.
Keith enjoyed my class very much, and knew I was also in law school. One day, he approached me to talk about his future. “Hey, Jim, are you going to be representing football players when you graduate from law school?”
“Yes, I definitely plan on doing that,” I said, even though at the time I hadn’t even thought about a career in sports management.
Once Keith put the idea in my head, I realized that it was a pretty good one, so I immediately jumped at the opportunity.
As it turned out, I never represented Keith, but a year later, I did end up representing a player by the name of Albert Bentley, who was a star on the first national championship team at the University of Miami and a top draft pick with the Michigan Panthers of the now-defunct USFL (United States Football League). That, in turn, prompted me to sign quite a few other top players over the next several years, including Eddie Brown (the 1985 NFL Rookie of the Year), James Brooks (a star at Auburn), Tim McGee (a star at Tennessee), and Ickey Woods (creator of the “Ickey Shuffle”).
I was overworked and overcommitted, but forged ahead regardless. I will talk more about that in my next post, and how I learned some hard lessons about personal time, work life and more.
You can find a lot more about my background, and the story of this case, in my book, Blindsided, from which this blog post is adapted.