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Bame ’59 Takes on New Career Coaching Lawyers

June 2, 2011 | Alumni

Jerry Bame ’59 has a new mission in life: Making lawyers happy.

After retiring from 39 years of a litigation and business transaction practice in Southern California, Bame set out 11 years ago to take on a new role as coach, mentor and confidant to unhappy lawyers across the country.

“I’ve seen so many lawyers who are excellent attorneys,” Bame said. “But, they are not good to themselves, their families, or their friends. Lawyers need to be happy with what they are doing.”

Bame, who operates the company Professional Business Coaches, first recognized how many of his fellow members of the bar were unhappy when serving on a client relations committee for a local bar association.

“Lawyers deal with other people’s problems all day, but don’t deal with their own problems,” he said. “Most know something is wrong, but they don’t know what it is, or how to fix what is wrong. They don’t have anyone to talk to because they often don’t want to talk to anyone at the firm or business about how they feel. A lot of these lawyers are under a tremendous amount of stress and some have had heart attacks or multiple divorces. They provide for their families every need except for giving themselves. There is a pattern of work upon work upon work and their personalities have been strangled out of the equation.”

Bame is hired by both individual lawyers and firms to assist individual lawyers who are struggling and for business development strategies (because, of course, happy lawyers tend to have happy clients, he says). He also is a frequent speaker at bar association and other lawyer-related events, and operates the blog “PracticingLawSucks.com,” (but it doesn’t have to, he quickly adds).

Bame’s first piece of advice: Have some fun.

“It is astonishing to me how many lawyers cannot answer the question: what do you do for fun,” Bame said. “Or, a lawyer will say he plays golf for fun but when I ask him when was the last time he golfed, it turns out it was six months ago.”

Bame also finds that many lawyers are not good at setting and achieving personal goals. While they often do this with their cases or clients, they do not on a personal level.

“Lawyers, especially those in middle of their careers, need to have goals related to developing a specialty, setting monetary milestones, or earning advanced degrees, and they need to have set mechanisms in place to achieve these goals,” Bame said.

Bame finds that many struggling lawyers do not have clear priorities in life and in work and instead start each day with a to-do list, or just deal with stacks of urgent tasks that must get done that day. Part of his strategy is creating scheduling mechanisms and putting systems in place to make things run more smoothly.

“One of the key mottos I work from is to stop focusing on what is urgent and instead focus on what is important,” he said. “A lot of lawyers are not as effective or efficient as they could be. There is a lack of organization and while they are getting work done, it is taking longer than it has to take.”

Bame finds that many lawyers hit a “wall” five to seven years out of school, and, many, unfortunately, end up leaving the practice of law unnecessarily.

“I do not help lawyers change careers,” Bame said. “I help lawyers find happiness with their current career and job. Most lawyers start out so passionate, but then lose that passion. That changes the whole dynamic of practicing law. I help lawyers discover why they lost their passion and how to get it back.”

Bame himself had another The Ohio State University law grad – his father Ira Bame ’26 – as an incredible mentor to help him learn and execute the principles he now tries to instill in others.

“My father was an incredible example and teacher,” Bame said. “He was a member of the Ohio Bar for 50 years and a Judge in Toledo.”

Bame earned his undergraduate degree in business from Ohio State before finishing his law degree in 1959. He immediately headed west to California in hopes of catching part of the business boom in the area and enrolled in UCLA, where he earned a Master’s in Business Administration.

“I never really wanted to practice law and always wanted to be in management consulting,” Bame said. “But my dad encouraged me to practice law for at least six months so I could say I was a lawyer before going into consulting.”

Bame found a job at a small firm in Los Angeles and on his second day was sent to the courthouse when a lawyer unexpectedly could not make it.

“I didn’t even know where the courthouse was,” he said. “When I came back, the senior partner asked me how bad I had lost and it turns out I had won. He was so shocked he called the judge to verify what I said.”

After that, Bame’s litigation career took off and he opened his own firm two years later.

“I enjoyed being in court, especially in front of a jury,” he said. “It was challenging, exciting, and stimulating.”

Over the years, he finally did focus on business consulting and found that the key to his success rested with his father’s creed of balancing work, family, and fun. Over the years, he has been a fish and game commissioner for his County in California and, until about 14 years ago, a race car driver. Today, he is a gold prospector. All for “fun.”

“All of these things reduce pressure for me,” he said. “Every lawyer has to find their own way of dealing with stress and then they have to actually schedule time to do it.”

Bame has been married for over 40 years and has two daughters, one of which owns a public relations agency and the other is an executive chef.

Besides drawing on his own experiences, Bame believes what make him successful with his current consulting work with lawyers is listening without judgment, objectively looking at their lives and work without being vested, and being a trusted confidant who can think seriously about what they are saying and feeling.

“I want this to be my legacy,” he said. “Helping clients when I was practicing law was nice and once or twice a year I would receive a thank-you of some sort from a client. But, since I started focusing on helping lawyers 11 years ago, I have received numerous letters from lawyers, which are now mounted on my office wall. I want to help lawyers find fulfillment.”