Know Your Limits, But Don’t Set Limits Where There Are None. . . .

Know your limits.

True Story

This Spring I drove to Auburn, Indiana to drive high performance exotic vehicles and other classic cars for Auctions America. Hundreds of cars, trucks, motorcycles and other vehicles of all descriptions are sold at those auctions. I enjoy doing this and the local Lions Club gets a donation for organizing the drivers. 

Every year I experience something new, a 1953 Buick Skylark that will not start unless you fully depress the accelerator. Push buttons on the dash, the floor, and switches that power the ignition in places where you would never expect to find them. Batteries located in all kinds of places within the body of the vehicle. We test each car as many of them will have brakes that are not functional (fun).

But along with the problem children of the classic era, there are some real creampuffs. The 1940 Ford Coupe that I drove last week was just like new. It drove like a dream. No expense was spared restoring it. I also get to drive other high performance cars like the one in the photo included with this blog. I have been driving cars for about 4 years for these events. I have a lot of experience. I am often called upon to drive some of the more problematic cars by the organizers because of my experience. 

The car in that photo is a pro stock 1,000 hp dragster. It was, by far, the most powerful vehicle offered during the auction. Now, I normally drive a Prius and I am not a muscle car fanatic. But this car was awesome. It was on the top of my list to drive through the ring for the auction. This meant that I had to climb into the roll cage, operate multiple trip switches mounted on the headliner. The steering wheel was lying on top of the dashboard. It was disconnected to make it possible to get into the tight space that afforded the driver protection with the roll cage built all around him. Once seated you had to put the steering wheel into the steering wheel column to be able to operate the car.  Before you could start anything, you had to reach under the parachute in the rear to pull a lever to activate the electrical system. This was not your daily driver! I can assure you that this beautiful 1968 Camaro was not used to haul groceries. 

When it was brought up earlier that morning it was placed in line according to its lot number behind the cars going up for bid that morning. I could hear it across the lot a 1/4 mile away with what seemed like an explosion as each piston fired. It had an 8 inch open throated exhaust port exiting immediately from the side of the engine compartment – forget any muffler. This was pure testosterone charging horsepower. I wanted to ride that beast and be in the seat as it exploded its way up the ramp and onto the turntable. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would pilot a vehicle very few ever get to see, much less get to drive. My heart pounded as the call number for that car got closer. As you see in the photo, the door is open and I am prepared to enter this beast after being fully briefed on its operation.

Five minutes before it was to go into the ring, I began the process of entering the roll cage. First I discovered head first would never work as the distance between the roof line (which was very low) and the lowest part of the roll cage was maybe 12 inches. Then I thought I would put both legs in and pull in the rest of my body – no way. . . .

As the time to drive the car grew closer, one of the technicians who operated these types of cars demonstrated how to get in and he slid in almost effortlessly. Put the right leg in as far forward as possible, fold in half and bring in your torso along with your butt and finally draw in your left leg and you are there. Right! As you can see in the photo, my midsection is more generous than a 29 inch waist. Too many burgers. I couldn’t get in as much as I wanted to, it wasn’t going to happen.

I stood by as I watched “stick man” hop in and fire up the beast. The explosions began as I waived it goodbye. But, I was also somewhat relieved to know that there was no danger of that experienced driver giving that Camaro a little too much gas and finding himself airborne over several of the first rows of spectators.

This is all to say that as an attorney, you will have some “high performance” clients walk into your office seeking assistance that you know is beyond your level of experience. Nothing in the rules prevents you from gaining experience and taking on new and different practice opportunities. The key is to know your limits before you try to enter the roll cage of catastrophe. Do your measurements first. Test the waters. Find out if there is someone who has experience in the area of law that you seek to practice and see if they will mentor you and give you guidance so that you don’t go “airborne” unintentionally.

Weigh and measure before you commit to do the work. One method is to sign a retainer limited to “research and advice concerning _____”.  That way, you can give a preliminary assessment of what you will agree to do only after you have researched the law and investigated the facts before you get in too deep.  That way, it is better for you and better for the client. Once you conduct your early assessment you will be in a better position to know how to price the work as well. Your initial work can be done as a set fee so that the client knows better what it will cost after you have priced it out once the initial investigation is complete. Often, after getting into a commitment, without a pre-inspection process, you find that it is too late and you have passed the point of no return.

You need to know to set your limits, but don’t be so fearful that everything you do gets limited. Don’t set arbitrary limits and limits based upon unreasonable fears. As an attorney, you will face confidence stressing decisions every day. Weigh and measure your options carefully and if you feel you can climb into the roll cage and pilot that case to a successful conclusion, take it on and enjoy the ride!

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