Practicing Law With the End in Mind

The events of 2001 have caused many in our nation to reanalyze our priorities and our life's goals. Even before the tragic events of September 11, I had been given ample reason to carefully examine the goals of career and life after my brother, Richard Bleeke, died suddenly of a cardiac arrhythmia in January 2001 at the age of 43. Rich had never been ill, and like the victims of the 9/11 tragedies, had absolutely no warning that January 15, 2001 would be his last day to go to work or visit with friends and family. {Rich began his last day at 4:30 a.m. by driving his long time friend and law school roommate, Terry Miller, to the airport as he flew to Baltimore where he was soon to relocate to anew position with the Social Security Administration}. Looking back at Rich's life as a lawyer, a friend, and a brother reveals that he was "practicing law with the end in mind."

Stephen Covey's popular best-seller, The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People, devotes a lengthy discussion to the concept of "Beginning With The End In Mind." Covey asks the reader to picture himself attending his own funeral and waiting with anticipation to see what will be said to summarize his life by a family member, a friend, a co-worker and an acquaintance from a church or other community organization. With death of my brother, Rich, who in addition to the same family roots, also shared the same legal profession, and had attended the same grade school, high school, college and law school just three years ahead of me all along the way, I was presented with a closer glimpse than usual of the imaginary scenario posed by Stephen Covey. I thought the insights I gained from that difficult experience might be worthwhile to my friends and colleagues around Indiana.

The kind and heartfelt comments I received in person and via notes from Rich's colleague's were words that I would be proud to hear at my own funeral. For example, the very first person to stop by the funeral home on a cold January afternoon was the waitress who often waited on Rich when he ate lunch at the Window Garden Restaurant on the 14th floor of One Summit Square in Fort Wayne. She said, "You know I just had to stop by because Rich always had a kind word for me and really cared about how I was doing. I will really miss him."

In Fort Wayne, the Allen County Bar Association also has a wonderful tradition of honoring fellow members of the Bar who have died with a noon-time gathering in one of the beautiful refurbished Allen County Courtrooms. Several of the Judges gather and one reads a proclamation from the Court and then offers members of the Bar, and others in attendance, an opportunity to share their own words concerning their deceased colleague. As Rich's family, we were invited to attend, and share in the comments, that included both laughter and tears, as lawyers, court staff, and friends shared how Rich had touched their lives, while doing his best to represent his clients "the right way", and to help other lawyers whenever the opportunity presented itself.

Other letters from friends and colleagues included the following comments:

Rich was my law school classmate in Bloomington and a good friend to me then and in years since. Although separated by some distance, we would see each other at law school functions and from time to time in Fort Wayne and Indianapolis. When I went to work for Governor Bayh and later sought appointment to the Supreme Court, Rich was extraordinarily kind and generous in his support of my efforts. He volunteered to contact important people in the process on my behalf and did so most effectively. As best as I can tell, he did this entirely out of friendship, never asking a single thing in return.

[Frank Sullivan, Jr., Justice, Indiana Supreme Court]

If I may, from a personal standpoint, your brother was a real class act. He never once said no to me when I asked him to help out in the education of lawyers. His enthusiasm, charisma, and ethical spirit made working with him a true pleasure. And it became infectious among his fellow panelists. You always knew when you were on a panel with Rich Bleeke, that the best was expected, and he made that challenge fun.

[Jeffrey Lawson, Program Coordinator, Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum]

Your brother was very good at what he did. More than that, he was my kind of lawyer. The trial that he and I had remains the only trial I have ever been in which I do not remember making an objection during the trial. Because there was nothing he did incorrectly. He had mastered the facts and the law, and was also a master of trial presentation. Each trial lawyer has two goals in every case, and sometimes they conflict. The lawyer is trying to win for the client. The lawyer also is trying to make the system work as it is intended to work. Some refer to these goals as duties: the duty to zealously represent the client and the duty to the court as its officer When these two goals conflict, trial lawyers usually fall into one of two groups. One group does whatever it takes to win. The second group will only do what is allowed by our system, because their duty is first to see that justice is done, and that overrides their selfish interest in winning. Your brother was in the second group, so are all the best lawyers. He was truly an excellent trial lawyer, and I can think of no greater compliment to give.

[Mark Lienhoop, Newby Lewis Kaminski & Jones]

In the brief time I knew Richard, I was impressed with his forthright professional manner but at the same time, sincere, caring way he spoke to me. He made me feel as though he was interested in me and not just as a client.

[Judy Church, a client in Rich's law practice]

Richard has been like a brother to me since we first met back in the seventh grade. I will always treasure the memories of our time together on the golf course and in school, how Richard regularly wrote to encourage me during my first difficult year at West Point and how he came to my graduation, and how he remained a close friend (and a friend and lawyer for my parents) ever since.

[Rev. Craig Werling, Minister in South Dakota]

There is something about going through a particularly challenging experience that brings people together. Certainly, law school created those tight long-lasting bonds among classmates. When we started as first year students, we were all a little intimidated and we found solace in knowing that everyone was in the same situation. . . . It has been nearly twenty years since we graduated. As tight as those bonds were in law school, it is easy to lose touch with one another with the demands of work, family and distance. Rich, more than anyone else in that group, made certain that he kept in touch with everyone and made sure that we were all aware of how others were doing as well. That point was brought home to me very poignantly when I had surgery a few years ago. As you probably know, I have epilepsy. Fortunately, I hadn't had any seizures since childhood until I was 32 years old. At that time, I began having seizures frequently despite trying numerous medications, they couldn't get them under control. As a result, I went to the Mayo Medical Center in Rochester, Minnesota and had brain surgery. My wife, Denise, has said on numerous occasions since that surgery that other than her and perhaps my parents, Rich showed more concern for my condition and subsequent recovery than anyone. In addition, Rich made sure that the other tailgaters were aware of my condition and as a consequence, they also stayed in touch. Their support and encouragement at that time was a key to my recovery at a very trying time in my life. . . . It was just Rich's nature to be supportive and compassionate for others. . . . When some people pass away with money in the bank, it is said they were wealthy. Although his life was too short for those of us left to deal with his loss, Rich amassed wealth that cannot be measured in dollars and cents - the admiration, respect and love of the many people upon whose lives he made a positive impact.

[Jim Bohrer, Mallor Cledenning Grodner & Bohrer]

In the hectic stress-filled life of a lawyer, it is very easy to lose sight of the end of the week, let alone the end of a career or a life. However, if we were able to truly "keep the end in mind" in our daily interactions, our approach to our daily interactions with our adversaries, our colleagues, our office staff, and our families and friends might change significantly for the better. At our funerals, how many of us really want people to say, "You know, he was one tough lawyer who always stuck it to the other side", or "Boy, he sure did win a lot of cases and make a lot of money." Instead, wouldn't we all be better served as lawyers, and human beings, if we followed the more difficult, but rewarding "Simple Path" followed by Mother Teresa, who lived with the end in mind by embodying the principles of a sign on the wall of Shishu Bhavan, the children's home in Calcutta.

People are unreasonable, illogical and self-centered, Love them anyway
If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives,Do good anyway
If you are successful, you will win false friends and true enemies,Succeed anyway
The good you do will be forgotten tomorrow, Do good anyway
Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable, Be honest and frank anyway
What you spent years building may be destroyed overnight, Build anyway
People really need help but may attack you if you help them, Help people anyway
Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth, Give the world the best you've got anyway.

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