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TCL > December 1999 Issue > Still Learning After All These Years

December 1999       Vol. 28, No. 12       Page  11
CBA President's Message to Members

Still Learning After All These Years
by Alfred C. Harrell

Editor's Note: During this administrative year (July 1999-June 2000), this space will be used for material written by CBA President Bart Mendenhall, as well as other officers of the Colorado Bar Association. This month's article was written by Alfred C. Harrell, Denver, a Denver County Court Judge and CBA Vice-President from the First District.

When I became a lawyer in 1971, I had been married seven years and had three children who were seven, five, and four. I had only one goal: to make an honest living. I had almost no time for my family, and even less for community involvement. Building a practice was a monumental task. I put establishing myself in the legal community before everything else. Was it worth the price? Do I have any regrets? What would I do differently?

The answer to the first question is no; it was not worth it. Let me put it this way: neglecting family is an egregious error. A lawyer can always find a client--whether it is a paying client is another issue. You cannot replace the love and support of a family. Children are only children for a moment, and then they are off onto their own adventures. I would have liked to have spent more time with my children than I did. I believe that today's lawyer understands the importance of family. Everyday it seems, I learn about another lawyer who said, "No! I'm not going to let my work come before my family." To those lawyers who consciously make the decision to spend less time at the office and more at home, I say, Bravo; you will not regret it!

It would be silly to regret the past. I firmly believe that our experiences, good or bad, mold our character. I hope to have learned from my experiences in such a way as to achieve a level of serenity in my life. I hope I am not doomed to make the same mistakes that I made in the past. I know that I cannot go back and spend more time with my children; but I can spend time with them now. I can enjoy them and their children, unlike anything I was able to do in the past. I certainly realize that this is partly the result of the natural progression of life. As one ages, one begins to savor almost every moment. As friends and loved ones leave us, we realize that spending time regretting what might have been only results in squandering the precious time we have left.

What would I do differently? When I went to college, I put a lot of my upbringing on the back burner. Probably the single most important item that I dismissed as not being relevant was my religious training. I told my wife that I had no objection to the children being raised in the church, but I wanted no part of organized religion. I mean, come on, doesn't every twenty-one-year-old have all the answers? I would not make that mistake again. Fortunately for me, about eighteen years ago I reinserted myself into a spiritual program, and that involvement has been one of my greatest joys. Didn't I read somewhere that a recent health study discovered that people who participate with others in some type of spiritual program live a less stressful and longer life than those who enjoy no such participation? Aside from the health benefits, religious worship was and is, for me, a worthwhile community enterprise.

For most of my young adult life, I did most things on my own terms. The achievement of becoming independent and self-reliant was a prime directive in both my grandparents' and my parents' homes. Probably the most difficult obstacle to achieving true selfhood for me as a young lawyer was the mistaken belief that somehow by sheer dent of intellect and education, I should be able to accomplish anything. When I finally came to terms with the reality of needing other folks in my life in order to accomplish realistic goals, the quality of my life increased exponentially.

Community involvement doesn't come to all of us at the same time in life. For some of us, it comes early in our legal careers, for others, later, and for many others it is a continuous process. Whenever it comes, I hope it will come for you. I cannot stress enough that the greatest lesson that I have learned is that community involvement starts within your own home and with your own family--whether it is your immediate or extended family.

When I became a judge fourteen years ago, two of our three children were in college; the third was on his way. The combination of these new challenges propelled me forward like nothing had before. I discovered quickly that I had found the perfect job. In addition, I found that I had more time to devote to the community. From that day fourteen years ago, when I took the oath of office to serve the community in which I live, to this day, I have had the time of my life. I have immersed myself in the affairs of my community on all levels. That involvement has given me purpose and an abiding belief that I do make a difference.

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