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How My Law Practice is like Throwing a Shot Put

One of the highlights of my youth was when I was 14 years old and I became a double State Champion at the 1989 IESA (Illinois Elementary School Association) State Track Meet.

I won the Eighth grade Class A discus throw and shot put events that year and broke the existing Eighth grade Class A shot put record (by 8 3/4 inches) in the process.

I was the only person to make it to the State Track Meet for Octavia Jr. High that year. Winning two events equaled 20 team points at the State Track meet – which as luck would have it – was good enough for a Fourth Place Team Trophy. My Track Coach – Mel Reynolds – let me keep the team trophy since I was the only person on the team.

Becoming a double State Champion and placing 4th as a “Team of One” at the State Track meet when I was 14 years old is something I will never forget. Now in my 40’s -- I am not a world class shot put and discus thrower anymore – my throwing career has been over for a long time. I am now an attorney – an estate planning attorney to be exact. Back in Junior High – it was my goal to be the best shot put and discus thrower in the State of Illinois. Now – in my 40’s – my goal is to be the best Estate Planning Attorney in Illinois. Here are a few life lessons that I learned from my State Championship experience at 14 years old – that I keep in mind as a pursue new goals in my 40’s:

Lesson #1: You Need Mentors

I started throwing shot put and discus when I was 11 – fifth grade. It’s easy to just throw a discus 40 feet – but how do you throw it 140 feet? How do you throw it better than anyone else? You have to learn from someone that has a lot of experience and can teach you. My mentor in Jr. High was Al Oerter – through an instructional video tape. You probably have never heard of Al Oerter before – but he is one of the greatest Olympians of all time. He won the discus throw for four straight Olympics – 1956; 1960; 1964; and 1968 – truly amazing. I don’t remember how I found it – but I was able to find Al Oerter’s video on how to throw the discus. I watched his video over and over again trying to learn his technique. I never met Al Oerter in person – but he was my mentor. Below is a short interview of Al Oerter on YouTube – he still inspires me!

Being an attorney is hard. You go to law school to learn how to read cases, learn about civil procedure and contract law, etc. – but law school doesn’t teach you anything about how to be an attorney – let alone how to be a successful attorney and/or how to be an attorney with a work-life balance. I wish there was a 30 minute video that could tell you how to be a successful attorney – but it doesn’t exist.

In 2012 I decided to transition my practice from mostly business and banking law to estate planning law. I didn’t have much experience with estate planning at that time. I needed to find a mentor . . . and I did. I became part of one of the premiere Estate Planning Associations in the United States – Wealthcounsel – to learn skills in drafting Wills and Trusts; and I hired a consultant from San Francisco who taught me how to market myself; network with others and establish good processes and procedures in my office to provide the best services to my clients. When I started doing estate planning – I just didn’t want to be “an estate planning attorney” -- I wanted to be the best estate planning attorney in Illinois. I can’t do that without mentors. I now have a network of fellow attorneys and consultants that serve as my mentors to help me improve my craft – and I continuing to learn and get better every day.

Lesson #2: You Will Fail

Finding a mentor is just the start of learning how to be successful at something – and just because you have a mentor doesn’t mean you will automatically become a success. Even with Al Oerter’s instructional videos in hand - I had a huge disaster my 7th grade year throwing the discus. I most likely would have won a State Championship for the discus throw my 7th grade year – but I did not even make it to the State Track meet -- because I scratched (threw the discus out of bounds) all three of my throws in the Regional Track meet. (The top 2 finishers at Regionals go to the State track meet). It was windy that day and my discus sailed very far – to the left and out of bounds -- for all three of my throws. I was devasted.

Being an attorney is hard – I think I said that already in Lesson #1 above. As the great philosopher Rocky Balboa said “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows” -- Rocky IV. Below is a video of Rocky’s “Sunshine and Rainbows” speech.

I have had my ups and downs as an attorney that I have shared in the past. You can Click Here for a blog article I wrote about those ups and downs in my legal career and how I changed mentally to turn things around for myself.

The most important thing that I have learned is that I needed to start seeing failure as an opportunity to learn and to grow. I tell myself now – there is no “Winning and Losing” – there is only “Winning and Learning.” I think that is why they call it the “practice” of law – because you don’t ever really “master” the law – you just keep “practicing” and improving and becoming more wise as an attorney.

My goal is to be the best estate planning attorney in Illinois. I see every day as an opportunity to improve my knowledge and skills as an attorney and how we do things here at the Ritchie Law Office, Ltd. I am not perfect. My firm is not perfect. But we learn from our mistakes, improve, and inch closer toward our ultimate goal of estate planning perfection.

Lesson #3: Practice Makes Perfect

Excellence just doesn’t “happen”. Al Oerter didn’t just roll out of bed and become a 4 time Olympic Champion. If you watched his interview I referenced above – Al Oerter says that you have to think about the “Long Term Commitment to Excellence” in life. Al estimated that he threw 10,000 discus throws a year for 45 years for an estimated 450,000 discus throws over his lifetime. He admits that not one throw of those 450,000 throws was ever a perfect one – Wow!! You have to be driven. You have to think long term. You have to put in the work and the repetitions to be great at something. Overnight successes are usually 15 years in the making.

Growing up I lived on a farm – so we had plenty of yard for me to practice throwing shot put and discus at home. My Dad even painted a circle on the asphalt country road that ran by our house so I could practice in a “throwing ring.” My sixth, seventh and eight grade years, I threw as soon as the snow melted in early March on my own – at home – even though school track practice did not officially start for another month. I remember throwing through rain storms and when it was bitterly cold. I remember video taping myself when video cameras were just starting to be a thing back then – and of course I had the Al Oerter instructional videos.

My eighth grade year I did make it to the State Track meet in both shot put in discus. The discus throw was the first event I did. I ended up throwing 144 feet 9 inches – which wasn’t my best throw of the year – but enough to win the State Track Meet. After my disastrous Seventh grade Regional Track Meet the previous year – I was elated. I was pumped. I remember walking down to the shot put ring and feeling like I was literally floating on air. When it was time to throw the shot put – I ended up throwing the shot put 47 feet 4 ¾ inches -- 3 feet further than I ever threw the shot put before – to beat the reigning 7th grade champion from the year before and break the State Record.

My mentors, my failures, my studying Al Oerter’s tapes, my practices in March in the rain and cold for three years paid off. It took four years of practicing to become a State Champion in the shot put and discus my Eighth grade year.

I continue to strive to be the best estate planning attorney I can be. What does being the best estate planning attorney mean for me? It means that if you do estate planning with me – your estate plan will not fail (a lot of attorneys cannot say that). It means my clients have the best experience possible when they interact with my firm. We charge flat fees for estate planning work. We have a process that guarantees most estate plans can be done within 30 to 60 days. It means that my clients actually understand what their estate plans do and how their plans protect their family and wealth. It means we are constantly asking for feedback from our clients to see how we can make our estate planning process even better.

I have recently been selected as a Top 10 Estate Planning Attorney In Illinois for “Client Satisfaction” by the American Institute of Legal Counsel. This honor means a lot to me as it recognizes the commitment I have to my clients. It recognizes my commitment to long term excellence. It reminds me that I haven’t forgotten the lessons I learned when I was 14 year old and became a double state champion at the 1989 IESA Class A State Track Meet.


This article is a service of Attorney Chad A. Ritchie and the Ritchie Law Office, Ltd.

Click Here or call (309) 662-7000 to learn more about Ritchie Law Office, Ltd. and our Estate Planning process, which starts with an initial consultation called our “Ritchie Legacy Planning Session”.

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