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From the golf course to the courthouse

David Ziemer

David Ziemer

So who is, or was, your favorite client?

That’s not a question I ever asked myself when I was practicing law. But it recently occurred to me to consider it.

The occasion was watching the Bob Hope Golf Classic with friends. We were talking about how nice it would be to be there instead of here in Wisconsin (temps were subzero just the day before), and the game of golf generally. My friend Dave and I discovered that we had both caddied at the Milwaukee Country Club when we were younger.

A long time separated our respective employments at the club, but that didn’t matter; I suppose things don’t change too quickly at a place like that.

Anyway, he asked me who my favorite member of the club was. I had never really thought about that either, but I knew instantly who to name. But before I could even answer, he asked, “Bob Trecker?”

“Yeah,” I replied. “How’d you know?”

Dave replied that all the great caddies loved to caddy for Mr. Trecker, even if most of the caddies were afraid of him and dreaded it. Somehow, I guess he just knew I was a great caddie, too.

“The way I saw it,” Dave explained, “golfing was what he liked to do, and he just wanted good service while he was doing it.”

I worked at the club around the time the movie “Caddyshack” came out, and as you can imagine, just as in the movie, there were plenty of complaints about “Fooling around on the course, bad language, smoking grass, poor caddying.”

But it was a joy to caddy for Mr. Trecker. We respected him, and if you were a good caddie, he treated you with respect, too. He was one of the best golfers in the club, although I think there was always someone much younger who would win the club championship every year.

And while it may seem counterintuitive, the better the golfer, the better the caddie needs to be. When someone like me hits a golf ball, and it’s just going to shank off to the right anyway, it doesn’t really matter whether I do that with a five- or a six-iron. But if somebody like Mr. Trecker is actually going to hit the ball straight at the pin, then the choice is important.

I’m sure Dave and I didn’t look, to an old industrialist like Mr. Trecker, the way caddies should look. My hair was so long, the bangs flowed ridiculously over my eyeglasses like John Denver’s. And with his Ziggy Marley dreadlocks, I suppose Dave looked more like a reggae musician than a caddie.

But the golf course is the ultimate meritocracy. You are going to hit the ball in the hole or you are not; the golf ball does not care where you went to school, or who your daddy is. And all Mr. Trecker wanted was to hit that ball in the hole; he didn’t care what your hair looked like.

So, after we finished reminiscing about Mr. Trecker and the rest of the club, and wishing it was warm enough for us to go golfing, I got to thinking about who my favorite client was when I was practicing law.

It occurred to me that the elements of a good attorney-client relationship are similar to those of a good golfer-caddie relationship.

You need mutual respect, and faith that each will do his part. You need to have attainable goals. You need a plan to accomplish those goals. And you need the ability to execute them.

When these elements aren’t there, the attorney-client relationship is doomed. It has no more chance of success than if a golfer thinks he can drive the green on a par-5 hole, and blames his caddie when he can’t.

Unfortunately, that description fits too many of my former clients. Maybe I should have stayed on the golf course.

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