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Be a serendipitous lawyer

Special to the News Columns
Jim Vickaryous

Jim Vickaryous

I walked into a crowded courtroom in Southwest Florida for a cattle-call hearing. There was one seat left in the back row, so I took it. There were many lawyers arguing their motions that afternoon. Many made the same argument I was planning on making, and they all failed to persuade the stand-in senior presiding judge. I became worried. I could not think of another argument that would sway this judge. Surely, I would lose this afternoon. The lawyer sitting humbly next to me didn’t seem too worried. I quietly asked, “What works with this judge?” He whispered back to me a winning argument. I used my new friend’s work product and the judge ruled in my client’s favor.

How serendipitous, I thought. Had I not been running a little late trying to get through an unfamiliar courthouse, I would not have had to sit in the last open seat in that courtroom. I was also fortunate that my case was far enough on the docket that day that I was not called first and I had an opportunity to see my argument was a loser. Most importantly, it was supremely serendipitous that my new friend shared his very wise counsel with me. I didn’t tell my client how I was successful for them that day. They just thought that I’m a great lawyer. In truth, I was a serendipitous lawyer.

Serendipity falls into the lap of well-prepared lawyers often. You look for one thing that you think is essential for your client’s case. However, in looking for what you thought would be the answer, you end up coming across something even better, which you could not imagine before searching. You take the statement of a random witness and end up learning what really happened in a case.

Serendipitous is my favorite word and concept in the English language. Unlike most English words and concepts that are borrowed from other languages, serendipitous was created by an English writer in the 1700s and used for the same meaning we assign it today. It is truly an English concept which we Americans have embraced and used to our great advantage. It is the unexpected blessing that comes when a lawyer works hard and keeps their eyes open to possibilities. It is finding something even better than what you were looking for, not even knowing you were looking for it.  Some have defined serendipity as a “happy accident.”

However, I would disagree. “Happy accidents” don’t just happen. Louis Pasteur, the great French chemist, once said, “… chance favors only those minds which are prepared.” Serendipitous occurrences happen when a person is actively seeking something, putting effort in what they believe is worth pursuing, and because of that effort, finding something so much better and useful. Serendipity is finding what you really wanted, but you just didn’t know that was what you wanted or needed when you started out on your quest.

Interestingly, courts love to use the word. It is found in hundreds of reported cases. A cursory case search brings up many dozens of reported cases across the country incorporating serendipitous events that are the turning point of a case. Seeing a serendipitous event probably is much easier to recognize from the bench. It definitely makes for great reading in a case note.

As a lawyer, it is essential to be well-prepared and proactive, however, it is also important to be open to unexpected and serendipitous events that can help advance your career and lead to new opportunities. Being serendipitous can be an incredibly valuable trait. Being open to unexpected opportunities and chance encounters can lead to new clients, new cases, and even new career paths. But being serendipitous is not just about luck — it requires being active in networking, building relationships, and staying open to new possibilities.

One of the most compelling reasons being a serendipitous lawyer is so crucial is that the legal profession is constantly changing. New laws and regulations are being introduced all the time, and legal technology is advancing at a rapid pace. This means that lawyers who can adapt to change and stay ahead of the curve are more likely to be serendipitously successful.

Being a serendipitous lawyer means being open to opportunities that may not be part of your original plan. Often, the best opportunities come from unexpected places or chance encounters. Being serendipitous means having the flexibility to recognize these opportunities and take advantage of them. Being serendipitous also allows lawyers to expand their client base and take on new types of cases. By staying open to unexpected opportunities, lawyers can connect with clients who they might not have otherwise encountered. This can lead to new areas of practice and increased revenue.

Of course, being serendipitous does not mean relying solely on “happy accidents” or chance. What is key is for a lawyer to recognize happy accidents when they occur and have the boldness to incorporate them into what the lawyer had already planned to do. It is important for lawyers to continue to develop their skills and expertise, to network strategically, and to be active in seeking out new opportunities. But by staying open to unexpected possibilities and being willing to take risks, lawyers can increase their chances of success in an ever-changing legal landscape.

Being a serendipitous lawyer makes practicing law fun, happy, and unpredictable in a very pleasant way. Serendipitous lawyers are open to new changes, expanding their client base, and taking on new types of cases. Being serendipitous requires activity, keeping your eyes open, being flexible to unexpected possibilities, taking risks, and being willing to step outside of one’s comfort zone. Sometimes, being a serendipitous lawyer has solely to do with where you chose to sit. Let’s all resolve to be serendipitous lawyers.

Jim Vickaryous is the managing partner of the Vickaryous Law Firm in Lake Mary and represents the 18th Circuit on The Florida Bar Board of Governors. 

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