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FROM THE ALABAMA LAWYER: Practicing Law According to Forrest Gump

By Samuel N. Crosby

Winston Groom and Sam Crosby

I have found wisdom and wit in the fictional character Forrest Gump, a creation of my friend, author Winston Groom. The movie based on Groom’s novel, Forrest Gump, contains a scene in which Forrest is running mile after mile with a crowd following him, and for no particular reason, he just stops running. It is difficult to stop running in an active law practice, but when I finally did, I began to reflect on my situation.

I began my professional career 44 years ago with a two-lawyer firm in a converted gas station in a small town. Our firm has grown to 12 lawyers in multiple offices, and I am enjoying practicing law now more than at any point in my career. My practice has included many leadership positions. However, two recent experiences revealed to me my increasing professional irrelevance.

The first experience was a Zoom meeting of the board of governors of the law school which I attended. It was an important meeting, and I had to attend by phone. The coordinator of the meeting inadvertently muted my line so nothing I said could be heard by any of the attendees. As I listened to comments during the meeting, I was struck by the fact that the meeting went very well without me, and my comments would have added nothing.

The second experience was a recent live meeting of all lawyers in our firm. I also had to attend by phone. No one ever asked my opinion about anything, and the attendees had a productive discussion and made wise decisions with no input from me. Once they finished the agenda items, they forgot I was there and hung up the phone without saying goodbye. As a 95-year-old client recently told me, “I have a lot to say but no one wants to hear it.”

During both of these meetings, I felt as though I was attending the meeting after my death. Rather than being offended by either of these experiences, I felt contentment knowing that the law school and our law firm can function just fine without me. Observing and embracing this fact has been liberating for me. As Forrest Gump said, “Maybe I am an idiot, but at least I ain’t stupid.”

Technological developments in the law have helped me keep a sense of humor in embracing my progressing irrelevance. Last year our firm purchased what I thought was some new type of computer equipment and put it in a corner of our main conference room. This item looks like something out of a Star Wars movie. When I asked a young staff member what it was, she said, “Mr. Crosby, that is a new garbage can.”

I’m in good company as I acknowledge my own irrelevance. One of my friends teaches a weekly online course for Rush Medical School. His students call in for each class session from throughout the country. Unfortunately, during one class session last term, my friend’s computer “shut down” for 30 minutes. At the end of that term, one of the students wrote on his teacher evaluation that he couldn’t believe he was paying full tuition to listen to some old guy who couldn’t operate a computer.

Playing harmonica is a constant source of joy for Forrest Gump. In his words, “…sort of like my whole body is the harmonica an the music give me goosebumps when I play it.” Having played the harmonica myself for 52 years, I know that feeling. I have other hobbies as well, fishing, golf, birding, and writing. But helping clients is more fun than any of them. Last year, I was interrupted by an emergency call from a client on a beautiful day during a golf round. As I looked out on the course and listened to the client’s distressed voice, I thought to myself, “I enjoy golf, but I love helping people more.” Lawyers have what my psychiatrist friend, whose father was a lawyer, calls “a sacred privilege” of having clients bring their most confidential and difficult problems to us for a solution. Sometimes I find that all they really need is a kind word or a prayer, but helping to solve people’s problems is certainly a lot of fun. According to the author of Ecclesiastes, there is nothing better for a person than to enjoy his or her work. (Eccl. 3:22)

I have learned that the only constant in law practice is change. In the words of Forrest Gump, “My mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” My plans are to practice law as long as my health permits. I hope to live and practice in the moment, knowing that every day is a gift from God, and He is the One who never changes. (Hebrews 13:8)

This article is in honor and memory of Winston Groom, a great Alabamian.