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Start Off as You Mean to Continue

Life Lessons Learned Along the Way: Start Off as You Mean to Continue


By Richard M. Mitchell, Esq., CPCU

We continue our series of personal, impactful stories that have shaped how we practice law.

This is something my father-in-law used to say.  He has been gone for a while, so I have not heard him say it for a while, but his words came back to my head recently.

There was a hole in the wall of my garage leading to the cold outside.  All kinds of unwelcome things could get through that hole and it clearly needed to be fixed.  A couple Saturdays ago I decided to tackle this relatively basic home repair.  It was something so straightforward that even I could do it.  I also, however, had a number of other things to do that day and not a lot of time to spend on this particular task. 

The exact nature of the repair is not particularly important.  What is important is the methodology I chose to deal with it.  I knew there was one board and it would need to be replaced.  This would not take a lot of time but would require more than I was willing to give at the moment.  Therefore, I decided to simply fill it, even though I knew that it was a temporary fix.  In fact, I would eventually have to remove this one item and simply replace it.  I fully intended to go back to the job at some later date when I had more time to devote to it.  My chosen fix, however, was going to make it more difficult when I did exactly that.  Nonetheless, I am a busy person and did not have time to address this situation properly.  I was about to take a shortcut. 

As I stood there with the wrong material in hand, which I knew would get me through the day but not much further, I started thinking about my father -in-law.  He always said, “start off as you mean to continue.”  Well, I certainly meant to continue this job, but not in the fashion in which I was starting off.  I also knew that by taking this shortcut I was making it more difficult for myself.  I realized that taking a little more time at the moment to do the job properly would save me much more time later.  It was still tempting to do just enough to get through the day, but thankfully, I not only heard him, but could see him glaring at me and thinking that his daughter could have made a better choice many years ago.

I really do miss him.  He said a lot of things that made a lot of sense and this was certainly one of them.  It is easy to take shortcuts, but that is not necessarily how we mean to continue.  Simply start out the right way and the ultimate task will be much more straightforward. 

I try hard to remember this not only in my personal life, but professionally as well.  We all get so busy that it becomes tempting to take shortcuts at the beginning of a case.  Just get the answer out.  Just do the basics for the moment.  Come back to it later.  The case is going to settle anyway.  That is a great way to get in trouble.  From the minute a case comes through the door, I try to think about what trial will look like.  I intend to litigate it at every step as though it will continue all the way through trial.  I understand that, statistically, that may not happen.  Yet, I have to assume it will and start off on the path I intend to continue.  Even if it does settle, my client will be in a stronger position if I have been on the same path from the beginning. 

The same is true of personal relationships.  Sometimes we meet someone but do not give that person our full attention.  I learned long ago to treat every relationship like it will have some meaningful impact on my life, whether or not that ends up happening. 

Start off as you mean to continue.  Yes, my father-in-law was, indeed, a wise man.

In our next article this month, Cody Corbin discusses a recent consent decree secured by the EEOC that demonstrates the inherent risks created by an over-reliance on artificial intelligence.