The Last Word:

Reality Checks

by Kenneth R. Allen

The question is asked: How do I balance a law practice with a personal life and a myriad of outside interests? The answer: with great difficulty. Allow me to wax philosophical. It is not a matter of how I do it all, it is why I do it at all. I try to keep life under control. It means

1) doing quality thoughtful work for clients without becoming a slave to the process,
2) using outlets to vent pressure and accent personal abilities, creativity and interests, and
3) maintaining an eternal perspective.

I keep priorities and goals in mind, and then I work on them as regularly as eating.


What possesses us as attorneys? Do we try to fit in one more thing? Are we so sleep deprived that we could not do any more if we tried? Do we allow service to client priorities deprive us of our entire time? Are we terrified by thought of loss to an adversary? Do we work incessantly merely for an extra measure of mammon? Or do we have inner strength, an appreciation of what we do and why?

My clients deserve and get first rate work. My clients know my uncompromising commitment to their causes. But I counsel on the relative value of causes in context. If a client desires to win at all costs, it is I who may pay the greater price. Such is not a client for me.


Some lawyers live, eat and breathe the law. It is their soul and sole energy outlet. Some are truly great lawyers. And nothing else. Then there are the rest of us. We need relief to keep our sanity.

My current primary outside interest is videography. It was not always so, as it is impossible to pursue everything at once. Serious videography is a rewarding emotional outlet from the daily strain of my practice. It is also a service. Late at night from an editing suite at home, I produce numerous videos for cable television. I am paid only in joy. The community, the performers and their friends get to see quality local productions. After several seasons of my high school football programs, complete with running commentary and due acknowledgment to my firm in the credits, the local cable station took it on. In-house MCLE training videos line the law firm library. During family trips I collect footage to produce documentaries. Some of the most memorable videos are of people telling their life histories. Some have since passed on. Those memories are now priceless.


While clients are important and hobbies are an energizing outlet, for me it is family and religious faith first, then my clients, career and hobbies. A family is a reality check. There is nothing so humbling as a teenaged daughter who is a fashion cop.

With planning, sacrifice and discipline, I have been able to take part as my family grows up. I do not commute. Our modest but overpriced home is in the community where I work, once a remote outpost far from the main office. I do not work on Sundays. I seldom work Saturdays. While I may work late into the early morning, I seldom bring work home. Most Friday nights are for a date with my wife. Saturdays may find me as referee at a son's soccer game or a judge at a daughter's swim meet. Sundays finds us together at church. I stay late to clean the chapel.

Perspective starts somewhere. As an engineering trainee, I was counseled by a wise manager who knew my faith to take a long look around and choose in such a way to have both a satisfying career and a joyful lifestyle. I weighed my strengths and admitted my weaknesses. I postponed pleasures. I prayed a lot. And then I bore down. The result was a trek on the trail less trod. As an undergraduate I converged on patent law when it was a backwater career choice. I married a wonderful young women who had priorities straight and was finishing a degree in computer science. With her support and minimal graduate assistance I undertook five years of intense graduate engineering studies, law studies and work-study focused on intellectual property. We took time to help others along the way, working as live-in butler and cook in Back Bay Boston and playing with inner city children in East Cambridge. After two bar exams we had seen enough to know the importance of family life in a community we could call home.

As a family we immerse ourselves in community and church. We explore distant places and peoples important in the lives of ancestors and our faith. We served as summer volunteers in Nauvoo, Illinois, the city founded by Joseph Smith the martyred Mormon Prophet. This is the place from which mobs drove our great-great grandparents across the frozen Mississippi to the brutal Western wilderness. We heard carols from carillons on Christmas Eve in Bethlehem. On Christmas Day we knelt in the Garden of Gethsemane overlooking Jerusalem. Sons played soccer on Kidron streets with Palestinian boys, then paused with black-robed teens at the Western Wall of the Temple. We sang hymns on Galilee and danced with a dervish on the Nile. We sat in a Cairo mosque comparing common values. We climbed through monumental pyramids built before our history began. The experiences were life changing. The perspectives of a law practice are refocused from such respites.

Consciously or unconsciously, priorities possess us. Without a set of long-term priorities, the demands of current activities and icons of pleasure possess us. Every icon of temporal desire yields to painful realities of the sacrifice required to achieve--and the limitations on enjoyment of--ephemeral rewards. That was the message of Goethe's Faust.

A perspective on the substance of life is a touchstone. Beyond a strong family can be a strong faith. Working with kindred spirits, I try to enrich, not for myself, but to make the experience of life a little more joyful for others. Endeavor to comprehend the purpose of existence. It is lived not for the pleasure but for the joy of it. " are, that they might have joy." (2 Nephi 2:25, Book of Mormon). That is why I do it at all.

[From California Law Business, a supplement to The Daily Journal, May 18, 1998, Page 30.]