Anchorage, Alaska


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Integrity. Independent Judgement. Humility.

A point of conversation is the silhouette of a boxer on my stationary and business cards. Who is this man?

The man is my father, Jim O'Hara, circa 1947 when he was a professional heavyweight boxer in St. Paul, Minnesota.

He and his story are an important part of my practice of law. He is a major reason I do what I do and how I do it. 

In fact, my boxing website is part of my practice of law - - where I scratch the surface of my father's wisdom as it relates to boxing, yes, but really as it applies to the vicissitudes of life. While working with clients, I share that wisdom as it may apply to the various situations clients face. 

"Integrity's all you got," Jim O'Hara advised. "Once it's gone, you got nothing."

With an eighth-grade education, he taught me that law is a profession and not a business per se. Sure, you have to meet a budget to pay your bills, but his meaning went to independent judgment.

Consider John D. Rockefeller, Sr.'s experience with his lawyer. In 1879 Rockefeller and Standard Oil needed legal assistance. Rockefeller found Samuel C. T. Dodd:

When Rockefeller hired him in 1879, Dodd held out, not for money or titles but for assurances of his integrity. Taking a relatively small salary (it would never exceed $25,000 a year), he resisted Rockefeller's plea that he take Standard Oil stock, arguing that this might compromise his legal judgment, and he never became a Standard Director for that reason.  

Ron Chernow, Titan: The LIfe of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., Chapter 13 (Vintage Books 2004), Kindle Edition. 

My father also taught a love of humility. "Nobody's looking at you," he said many times in his street smart way. "Who do you think you are?"

His meaning is illustrated in a story the actor James Cagney told in his autobiography:

During the making of a picture directed by Charlie Vidor, I noticed him come into the studio one morning looking very low and disconsolate. I asked him what the matter was.

"Ah, Jimmy, everybody hurt me, everybody hurt me."

"How do you mean, hurt you?"

"They say things. I don't think they mean to hurt me, but they do. They say really cruel things, and it weighs on me the whole day."

"Do you want to get rid of that, Charlie? Well - just ask yourself one question and the hurt will disappear THAT fast. The question is this: just ask yourself, 'Who the hell do I think I am?' And you'll see the hurt disappear."

"Ah, Jimmy, I can't do that."

"Why not?"

"Because I think I'm somebody."

And with that view, inevitably, comes insecurity and frustration and unhappiness. 

James Cagney, Cagney By Cagney, 179 (Pocketbook Edition February 1977). 

If your lawyer ever thinks he or she is somebody, take it from me - a lawyer is merely your caddie. Sure, the lawyer has an important job to do. But ultimately you take the shot. You're the decision maker. If anyone is somebody in the attorney-client relationship, it's the client. 

Steven T. O'Hara

O'Hara Tax Lawyer LLC