Fred Soucie knew what to do: Call Tex
Choose a job you love, and you will never work a day in your life, Confucius supposedly said. But what if your health requires you to give up the profession you love?
Veteran personal injury attorney Fred Soucie, the Anoka lawyer who is familiar to fellow trial lawyers as well as billboard-watching drivers along Hwy. 10, recently decided it was time to let someone else take his cases.
After eight surgeries since 2006, including a hip replacement, a knee replacement, two shoulder fracture repairs, a double hernia repair and another hernia repair, his doctor ordered him to step back from trial work.
This wasn’t what Soucie, 60, had planned for his life.
“I always figured I would stop trying cases when my ashes had been spread up at the lake,” where his cabin is, he told Minnesota Lawyer. “This was the farthest thing from any life plan I had and has been disconcerting to face.”
In fact, it has been one of the worst times in his life. Soucie’s emotional roller coaster began with denial — thinking this wasn’t really happening. His doctor’s emphatic
advice, and a “heart- and soul-wrenching self examination,” left him with some pretty basic questions to answer: how much did he value his health and the quality of life with his loved ones?
“When I escaped denial and faced those questions head-on the answer was painful but obvious — it’s time to take care of Fred,” he said.
Soucie began his transition by talking to his friend Tex, that is, Harry Sieben. His firm, Sieben Grose Von Holtum & Carey, agreed to give Soucie’s clients a home, if they wanted one. About 95 percent of them did.
“I’ve known Tex [Harry] Sieben for 30 years and way back when, when we talked about how to be a successful lawyer, his philosophy was the same as mine: You don’t worry about making a buck, you worry about taking good care of people,” Soucie said.
Soucie’s practice is a good fit because the firms have similar values, said Jim Carey, managing partner of the Sieben firm. “It sounds corny but Fred has a commitment to clients. When I talked to him for the first time my heart went out to him because what was on his mind wasn’t himself, it was his clients.”
“I was concerned for his health too and I’m glad he’s taking care of himself,” Carey added.
Although it’s challenging for the firm suddenly to absorb Soucie’s approximately 350 files, it’s gone relatively smoothly, Carey said. Getting client approval to transfer a case is time-consuming, he said.
The Sieben firm hired two lawyers and three support staff from Soucie’s old office.
“A lot of it is really nuts and bolts, like ‘how are we going to get computers to these people,’” Carey said. “There are a lot of details that you don’t think of when you’re beginning the process that you have to think of by the end.”
Separating from his clients and staff has been the hardest part, Soucie said.
As a “Catholic kid growing up I learned it was our job to take care of others, not ourselves.” That made it difficult to talk to clients and tell them he was going to leave.
And it was also very hard to give staff notice, Soucie continued. “They are wonderful people and one of the difficulties I’ve had is that we’re no longer working together.”
Step back and take a look
Soucie advised lawyers who are concerned about their health to treat it as a priority, difficult as that may be. “Value health and family above the rest of what can be a very engaging and meaningful career. I think too many of us ignore that, like I did.”
Anyone with serious health problems should take a look at his or her identity, Soucie advised. “Am I just a trial lawyer? Is that truly my life? Is that all that I am? Am I important to those I love for other reasons? What am I going to do if I can no longer practice?”
Tough questions, but essential, Soucie said.
Furthermore, lawyers should evaluate whether they are still enjoying their practices, Soucie continued. “My practice became more and more an ordeal rather than a joy.”
But even after facing the truth, it still was overwhelmingly sad to think about giving up his trial practice. “It was very difficult to picture going through this once I had faced it. But the more [Sieben, Carey and Soucie] talked, the better I felt about it — knowing that the torch was going to be passed to a strong torchbearer.”
Soucie will keep an office in Anoka and plans to be a business producer for the Sieben firm.
“I’m very heartened by how smoothly this has gone and how well this firm takes care of my clients,” Soucie said.
Carey is glad they did it. “It’s been interesting and fun.”