ZELLMER LAW GROUP
                a Business and Real Estate Law Firm
Jay's Story

 

 

For anyone who might be interested, this is the story of how I became the lawyer and the person I am today.   I  originally wrote it for the California Lawyer magazine.  I hope you enjoy it.  JZ

 

The Lawyer in the Mirror

 

Today I see my future and the future of my communities as seething with new and fulfilling possibilities.  I enjoy practicing law and  know I am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.  But the lawyer I see when I look in the mirror now  did not used to be this way.  I had to reinvent myself - not just change what I did or where or how I did it - but reinvent the core of my self.

 

 

As I started my legal career in 1983, nothing seemed to come easy for me, but it did come.   I just worked really hard. 

 

I had a nice home in an affluent suburb.   I was making great money.  I was becoming a knowledgeable business and real estate lawyer.  I was bringing in clients.  I was name partner in a downtown San Francisco firm.  I had a parking space.   I had made it and was on the rise, but....  I was generally miserable.

 

Back then, I never really talked about what was eating at me. I couldn't face it because I could not see the possibility of anything else.  In hindsight,  I think many folks around me were in the same rut - faking it - spending their weekdays surviving and their weekends trying to convince themselves that everything was OK.

 

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I tried to "fix" my life.  I quit the firm in San Francisco and went to Chico to start a new firm- right after the 1989 earthquake.  I did not know a soul when I moved there. 

 

By 1996, I had three associate attorneys working for me.  I was only working on quality cases for great clients.  Our reputation in the community was growing.  I  worked hard for a few years, but eventually was taking it easier.  I joined the country club, and donated lots of time to community groups.  Once again, my life looked all together.  But it wasn't....

 

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My problem was  me.   I felt driven to success, and somewhere along the line I discerned that a successful lawyer is an aggresive creep- and that the most successful are cunning enough to mask it.  I made my reputation by seeming aggressive and fearless.  I was spurred by anger which I directed at the "other side."   Heaven forbid if they pushed my buttons.  That fueled me,  so I constantly gave them motivation to push them. 

 

I believed that it was necessary to assume, or at least prepare for, the worst in people.  I saw enough examples of truly bad acts that the paranoia was seemingly justified. Everything was a battle to be won. 

 

It all worked.  I was a "successful" lawyer.

 

And I was that way in every area of my life.  Everywhere I went, there I was.  I had a temper and anger was always just below my surface.    Over the years my  law partners and my employees saw it and had a very hard time dealing with it. Whenever I was unsure or frustrated, I got angry and used that anger to intimidate, dominate and control.  I did not realize it, but that was my formula for results.  

 

Fortunately, I started to think another way of being was possible, but it was a long and harrowing journey to where I am now.  I started meditating.  I participated in leadership  courses which were all about building community.  For the first time, I started liking and trusting people and I wanted more of that in my life.  But... for every three steps forward, I took at least two back.  I kept having relapses into the old ways, whenever things got rough.  I was grinding along,  but praying for real breakthroughs.  I got my breakthroughs, but my life got truly shaken up in the process.

 

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I quit law, convinced that it was a main source of my "problems,"  and went searching.

 

I quit law for 2 and 1/2  years. I quit with no intention of going back.   I was not proud of my profession or of the way I was as a member of it. 

 

By then I knew that I was trying to find something called my "higher self."  I thought I would find it by replacing law.  I looked for something more "noble."   Something where I could make a bigger difference.

 

I chased the rainbows that had always stayed in the back of my mind.  I tried my hand at writing books.  I developed and tried to sell a product for which I had the idea twenty years earlier. It did not sell - maybe someday.

 

I also kept trying to "fix" me in my personal life.   I married  Tamara, who I knew and still know as the most beautiful, loving person I have ever met.   I moved to Nevada City in 1997.  We became a family with our daughter Tasha.  I thought all these changes would fix my life.  It was good to have loving people to inspire me - but everywhere I looked, everywhere I went,  there I still was -  impatient, critical, frustrated and too often angry.

 

I must have considered hundreds of options for what to "do".   Nothing seemed right.  I wanted "it" to turn me on, inspire me so I could be an inspiration for anyone who came into contact with me. I wanted to find a way to be fully engaged in life using all my skills.  I wanted to be of service and to really make a difference. I did not want to compromise.  

 

Tamara and I split up. 

 

The separation from my family was the last straw - the bottom. I needed to transform - quickly.  I needed to break those bad habits. I needed to reach down deeper than I had ever gone.

 

More than ever, I aggressively engaged in the process of reinventing myself.  I took personal growth courses.  Tamara and I did marriage counseling.  I lived for a month in a mountain cabin.  I voraciously read all the wisdom I could find.

 

I saw that all my life challenges were opportunities to become the person I intended to be.  I realized that I had carefully honed my habits - habits of using anger, intimidation and domination.  I had, mostly subconsciously,  rationalized that my habits were appropriate as a man - a warrior - trying to be "successful."  I had learned from society well.

 

Instead, I realized that there had never been anything "wrong" with me in the first place - that all my ways of being were human - and forgivable. And I knew I was now being called to be a better person.

 

Through all this,  I developed a new way of being. I still had all my attributes and skills, but now I had added an ability to  trust, empathize and access deeper levels of intelligence.  I learned to surrender to the process that is life, with all its beautiful, if sometimes nerve-racking,  challenges.  I developed the ability to be authentic and  then to be intimate with my family and friends.  I learned to trust that the truth always comes, and that it always comes right on time.

 

Only after I started being the person to whom I aspired did Tamara and I get back together.  Only then did I realize what to "do."

 

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On New Years Eve, 1998,  I did not go to sleep. That night, I remembered that I am a lawyer.  That is who I am,  what I was born to be. These were not just thoughts or insights.  They were accompanied by a rush of energy through my whole body. Being a lawyer is my truth.

 

That night, and since, I  remembered the innumerable times when I was at the top of my game.  When I was working extraordinarily with wonderful clients about whom I deeply cared.  When I was remarkably creative. When my critical thinking was clicking and I was solving difficult and complex problems.  When I was totally prepared as I walked into taut situations.  When I was so good at thinking on my feet.  When I was clear-headed and intensely productive under pressures and deadlines. When I was deeply involved in the issues of my communities.  When I understood something about human nature.  When I showed signs of real wisdom.  When I provided outstanding service - and was making a difference.

 

But  the most important thing is that I  knew that I would be different than before.   I realized I could be a "good" lawyer, just as I could be a good husband.   I had developed the inner strength, the firmness and kindness of character, to be a lawyer, engaged in the world,  and still be the person I want to be.  I saw the world from a different place.  My foundation was firm - I could operate from my center, my higher self - and could serve my clients much better than I ever had.

 

I realized that the law can still be among the noblest of professions.  It is a platform from which lives can be changed and huge differences can be made.  It all depends on who we are as we do our work.

 

When thousands more lawyers reinvent themselves, maybe a tide can turn.  We will become the wise persons lawyers were formerly thought to be.  Maybe we will be more pleasant to be around.   Maybe the lawyer jokes will stop- or at least slow down a little. 

 

Only after I truly reinvented myself was I able to come back to the law with this new perspective. All my efforts to change my life by changing my environment had not worked.  I had to get at my core


Only then was I ready to be a terrific husband to Tamara and father to Tasha. And now I am also the father of  Aaron, my wonderful son.  I am a great Dad.

 

Finally, only then was I able to start being the lawyer I truly want to be.  I am, finally, very proud of the lawyer I see in the mirror.

 

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