When It’s Time to Make A Change

I’m still trying to absorb the news that Sue Bell Cobb, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, announced her resignation this morning, effective August 1st.

Chief Justice Cobb has continuously served the citizens of Alabama as a member of the judiciary since 1981 when she was appointed district judge of Conecuh County, almost immediately after her admission to the bar. From there she moved to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals when she was elected to a seat on that court in 1994, and in 2007 she won election as Alabama’s first female chief justice. During all this time she has served faithfully, honestly and with distinction, fueled by a great love for the legal profession, the cause of justice, and the people of Alabama. This is what made it initially so hard for me to believe that she had really said that she was retiring prior to the end of her term.

I have to confess, my first thought was that I was so disappointed. Granted, her years as chief justice have not been a picnic. In addition to a full load of cases plus overall responsibility for the entire court system and all its employees, she has labored in vain to reform the system of selecting judges in Alabama, hoping to remove some of the partisan rancor and unrestrained spending that have made judicial elections in Alabama a spectacle before the rest of the nation. This year’s budget cuts have made it almost impossible for Alabama’s courts to function in anything like the manner most of us are used to, and there is no sign that things on that front will improve any time in the near future. But she is still young, vital, and full of fight. Why, I kept asking myself, is she leaving now, just when she is most needed?

Most lawyers have a great reluctance to let go of something, whether it be a disagreeable client, a difficult case or even winning itself. Success is the adrenalin that fuels us. But the more I though about the Chief’s statement, the more I realized she has made the decision that is right for her, and that all of us can learn from her decision. In her statement she cited her inability to make headway on two intractable problems that formed the foundation of everything else that she sought to build, and the realization that life moves inexorably forward, whether we heed it or not. She told us that her mother is now in her late eighties and her daughter is 15, and that both of them need her. She has given 30 years of her life to the people of the State of Alabama, and now it’s time for her to devote her time, attention and that boundless red-headed energy to the people she loves most. On due reflection, it’s pretty hard to fault her for that.

What about you? Is there something you should consider moving on from? Whether it’s a case, a client, a practice area, or anything else related to your practice, if you can honestly say you’ve given it your all and there is nothing further that you can do without the sacrifice of something even more important to you, maybe it’s time to think about making a change in your life, too.

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