Carl Ficks has been a lawyer since 1988. He started out at a small firm, and later went on to do civil litigation for big law and has done plenty of philanthropy as well. Now he runs No Surrender, a company specializing in helping busy professionals be more productive, less stressed and thrive through fitness and wellness. As a sought-after coach and trainer for professional associations and corporations, he believes that fitness is one of the cornerstones of success. In this interview Carl talks about how hiring a coach can help you stay on track with your goals and hold you accountable for the progress you make as well as the importance of rest days to avoid burnout. Plus, listen to his opinion as to why we should all have more civility in the practice of law and the need to have less divisiveness in the country, as well as why “Litigation is the art of imitation.”
Musical theme by Joel Katz, Seaside Recording, Maui
Technical support: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
Audiograms & Transcripts: Paul Robert
A transcript of this podcast is available at lovethylawyer.com.
Go to https://www.lovethylawyer.com/blog for transcripts.
Carl R. Ficks, Jr. helps busy professionals, and their teams, thrive with fitness. He’s a marathoner, endurance cyclist and former 30+ year trial lawyer who brings hard-won wisdom, real world experience and actionable strategies to his work. The founder of No Surrender, LLC, Carl teaches that fitness and wellbeing are the cornerstones of success. He’s a frequent guest on leadership, business and legal podcasts, and a sought-after trainer for companies and professional associations. His “Friday Ficks” newspaper column provides strategies, tools and inspiration to stay resourceful and resilient, regardless of the circumstances. When not cycling thousands of miles or chasing the next audacious fitness goal, Carl enjoys traveling far and wide with his wife and two daughters.
Musical theme by Joel Katz, Seaside Recording, Maui
Technical support: Bryan Matheson, Skyline Studios, Oakland
Audiograms & Transcripts: Paul Roberts
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Attorney at Law
Carl Ficks - Transcript
Louis Goodman 00:04
Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, where we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers and what their experience has been. I'm Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I'm a lawyer. Nobody's perfect!
Carl Ficks spent 25 years as a civil litigator in Connecticut. For several years he worked in the world of philanthropy. More recently he founded the company No Surrender, LLC, a firm dedicated to helping busy professionals get back in the fitness game so they can be less stressed and more productive. He writes a weekly LinkedIn column called Friday Ficks, F I C K S. He's appeared on numerous podcasts, which is where I first heard him. And perhaps most impressive is that in addition to his skiing, golfing and cycling over 5,000 miles in one year, he's run 27 marathons. Carl Ficks, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.
Carl Ficks 01:18
Thank you, Louis. I'm so happy to be here and I appreciate the invitation and I'm looking forward to our conversation.
Louis Goodman 01:25
I'm here in my office in Hayward, California. Where are you?
Carl Ficks 01:30
I am in my home office in Farmington, Connecticut, which is the central Connecticut.
Louis Goodman 01:35
And that's a colonial town, isn't it? Founded well before the revolution?
Carl Ficks 01:39
Very much. So it was founded in 1645. So it's been here a while.
Louis Goodman 01:45
Where are you from originally?
Carl Ficks 01:47
I was born in Stanford, Connecticut, which is outside of New York City. Lived there for about 10 years and then moved with my family. Because I was only 10 I had to go with them to Central Connecticut.
Luis Goodman 01:58
What sort of business do you have right now?
Carl Ficks 02:02
No Surrender is a company that I founded last year. And I am in the wellness and fitness space and I am coaching and I'm training, and I'm writing around that. Specifically focused on busy professionals and lawyers, having been one since 1988. I'm extremely passionate about that and I'm trying to share some best practices that help me throughout a long and rigorous career as a trial attorney.
Louis Goodman 02:30
Well, we're gonna get back there, but in the meantime, where did you go to high school in Connecticut?
Carl Ficks 02:35
Yes, in Connecticut, I went to Berlin high school, a public school in the town we moved to when I was 10. And then I went on to Providence College in Providence, Rhode Island.
Louis Goodman 02:46
And how were those experiences for you?
Carl Ficks 02:47
Wonderful. Providence is a Dominican college. The Dominicans shaped a lot of me and my life. The motto of Providence College is Veritas, which is truth. And that's kind of been my North Star throughout my life.
Louis Goodman 03:04
You ultimately went to law school. Did you take some time off between college and law school or did you go directly into law school?
Carl Ficks 03:10
I went directly. I graduated from Providence and then the following that ensuing fall, I went to the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. I thought it was best for me to just keep the train rolling.
Louis Goodman 03:24
What did you think of being in Washington DC?
Carl Ficks 03:26
I loved it. It was a fantastic experience, and we've come full circle and we'll hopefully talk about that. My daughter is down in D.C. now at George Washington University. So yeah, it spans the generations, but D.C. is a dynamic town. And so long as the Republic stands, D.C.'s going nowhere and it's just continues to grow. It's just a neat place.
Louis Goodman 03:48
Yeah. You really feel like you're of the centers of the universe when you're in Washington, don't you?
Carl Ficks 03:54
Very much so, and it's such an easy place to navigate, and there's so many things to do. And so many things to see.
Louis Goodman 04:02
What prompted you to start thinking about law as a career and when did you first start thinking about law as a career?
Carl Ficks 04:11
Well, I went to college with an eye towards being an engineer and I looked at the law and I thought, "All right, this is a neat intellectual pursuit that kind of marries my competitive nature and athletic spirit." And that's how I saw it. And I thought, "Well, that would be kind of a cool thing to do." So that was part of the thought process, Louis.
Louis Goodman 04:35
After you graduated from law school, you ultimately ended up as a civil litigator for quite some time. What was that experience like for you?
Carl Ficks 04:43
It was wonderful. I started at a small firm in New Britain, Connecticut. We were no less than 12 lawyers, no more than 15 throughout my 12 years there. And it was a wonderful experience. I had great colleagues, I had great cases and I learned a lot very early on. My first jury trial was perhaps 18 months after passing the bar, and that was a federal civil rights case. And I thought when the gavel dropped and the Marshall called the court to order, I thought, okay, Ficks, you got what you asked for, here you go.
And it was just a wonderful experience. I didn't do the big law thing out of the gates, so it wasn't one of those things where I had to wait five, six years to get into court. I was in court immediately and that's where I wanted to be. I just loved it.
Louis Goodman 05:36
Now you ultimately did end up in big law. Is that correct?
Carl Ficks 05:39
Yes. And basically I didn't have a bench. At this smaller firm, again, wonderful colleagues, wonderful cases, but I grew a book business and I was kind of buckling under that weight and I needed a deeper bench. So I moved in 2000 to a firm in Hartford, Connecticut, Halloran & Sage, and that's where I landed my flag then. And I got that deeper bench that I needed to continue to do my work and to continue to grow my book.
Louis Goodman 06:06
Now our mutual friend, Steve Fretzin always talks about the importance of lawyers having their own book of business, and I think that what you've just said is clear evidence that that's true.
Carl Ficks 06:20
Without a doubt.
Louis Goodman 06:20
When you were practicing law, what did you like about it?
Carl Ficks 06:23
I loved the mental gymnastics. I loved the tactical maneuvering. I enjoyed oral argument with judges and I enjoyed writing briefs. So it just fulfilled a lot of my needs. Again, intellectually and competitively.
Louis Goodman 06:43
If a young person were thinking about a career, would you recommend going into law?
Carl Ficks 06:47
I would. We are a nation of laws and without it there's anarchy. And to be a part of it is humbling. So I would recommend it. I have a few caveats, including the cost, which we could touch on if you'd like.
Louis Goodman 07:04
Well, the cost of law school has really gone through the roof certainly from the time that I went to law school. And probably from the time you went to law school. It's something that I think anyone thinking about being a lawyer really has to take into consideration.
Carl Ficks 07:21
Without a doubt, because if you have that debt, you've gotta be able to service that debt. And so you're not gonna service $200,000 worth of debt at a $40,000 a year job. That's just not possible.
Louis Goodman 07:35
What do you, think's the best advice that you've ever received?
Carl Ficks 07:39
As far as, from a trial lawyer, I received some great advice. He said to me, "Whenever you get the chance to go to court, get there early and stay there after your argument or your conference, and sit in a courtroom and watch live testimony." And I remember he said, "Litigation is the art of imitation. And if you have the good fortune of either second chairing or third chairing in a trial as a young lawyer, you will learn things. You will learn what to do, what not to do. But if you don't have that opportunity, go to court, find some live testimony and sit there and watch." So, I never forgot that, that litigation is the art of imitation. And if you find somebody good, then imitate 'em, him or her.
Louis Goodman 08:20
You now run a company that really focuses on wellness practices and people taking care of themselves, lawyers taking care of themselves while they're practicing. And I'm wondering what sort of wellness practices mattered to you when you were actively practicing as a full-time attorney?
Carl Ficks 08:42
I was steadfast in embedding a fitness component in my daily and weekly routine. And in all candor, I will take one step back. The first five years of my practice, I neglected my body, because I was all in on trying to become the best lawyer that I could. I was fresh out of law school and I wanted to learn everything and I wanted to soak it in. So I had very long days, long nights and neglecting myself. And I realized this was not sustainable. So I started to think, okay, I'm the guy that is, I'm feeding the furnace with my work. I'm earning this money and I'm paying off my student loans. And I'm the guy.
If I don't show up, Louis, then I can't feed the furnace. So it was all about the asset. I am, I am an asset. And interestingly, when you're a young lawyer, they say, oh, you should get disability insurance. You should get some life insurance. You should go meet this financial planner. And you make time to do all of those things to protect your actual cash assets. But you, you the person are the one that secures those assets to protect. So why wouldn't you pay the same amount of attention to yourself? You'd think nothing of going as a young lawyer to sit with a financial planner for an hour and a half, or two hours or whatever, why wouldn't you do that with yourself?
So I started thinking about, you know, protecting the asset of the person that's earning the wage and bringing in the compensation. So that's why it was important to me.
Louis Goodman 10:24
You're a really busy lawyer. You're a young guy. Where do you find the time to exercise and to balance that busy law practice with what you know you need to do and also, presumably you may have some community responsibilities, some family responsibilities. How does that all fit in?
Carl Ficks 10:44
I would advocate doing it in the morning as I have done and continue to do because of, well, many reasons. I call it the three C's. If you do it in the morning, then your workout is not delayed by clients, colleagues, or court. And I found it to be extremely helpful. Working out of the morning also gave me, continues to give me incredible clarity of thought. It's my little brain dump. I think about things that I may have wrestled with the day prior and I head into work with a much more clear head. So it just was a best practice that I employed.
Louis Goodman 11:23
Do you think that's being selfish?
Carl Ficks 11:24
No, I don't. And in fact, I think self care does not equate to selfishness at all. And here's why: I think when you take care of yourself, you show up better for those that you serve. We are in the service business. We serve the court, we serve the clients. we serve our community. We have partners, whether they're domestic or business partners, all of these on a wheel, all of these communities and pods that we serve, we show up better for them if we take care of ourselves.
Louis Goodman 12:01
What prompted you to leave practicing law and go into this work on a full-time basis?
Carl Ficks 12:07
I thought that I could be more impactful. I was looking at kind of the state of the state, the profession. Well, I won't say it's in distress, it's undergoing some changes. There are some significant mental health issues that the surveys and the data show that. And I thought, well, you know, this has worked for me. And I think if I could read more of my colleagues in the profession then I could do more good.
Louis Goodman 12:36
What if a person has been practicing for a while, they're kind of mid-career, let's say they're, you know, in their forties, their fifties, you know, they've really never exercised before, never really thought about this before, but for whatever reason, maybe it's a discussion with a family member. Maybe it's a discussion with a physician, friend. Something happens that rattles them and they wanna start getting on an exercise program. How can you help them with that?
Carl Ficks 13:07
We can start by finding out why they're doing this and do they have a goal? Are they doing this for themselves or are they doing this to impress somebody? And then we can, out of that shape goal. Lawyers are goal-oriented folks. If you just wanna lose a few pounds, we could do that. If you wanna run a marathon, we could do that as well. And it's just, it's no different than taking a case to trial. It's, there's a lot of brick building, you know, it's brick by brick and then you're finally ready to show up in court. So it's, it's literally and metaphorically one step at a time. You don't have to summit Mount Everest right out of the gates.
Louis Goodman 13:49
Fitness is something that you can have kind of a base level of fitness and then you can have certain peak levels of fitness that at least for myself, I can't maintain for months and months at a time, that I can hit a, a peak level of fitness and then I sort of feel like I need to back off and then build back up to something. Does that make sense?
Carl Ficks 14:13
I'm a big believer in rest days, I would show a marathon program of mine, which embedded two rest days a week. There's nothing wrong with that. You need that. You've got to recharge your battery some way. You know, I have friends that, that refuse to take a rest day and then they get burned out and that kind of follows form. It's no different than work, you need to, you need to back off. So it's perfectly normal.
Louis Goodman 14:40
What's the value of hiring a coach?
Carl Ficks 14:43
I think a coach does a few things. Number one, a coach will hold you accountable. Accountability is a big thing. There are some accountability hacks to get up in the morning. For instance, if you and I live close to each other and we are gonna walk our dogs together, I know that you're gonna be there at five 30 in the morning or six in the morning. And if I don't show up, I'm gonna disappoint you. That's a great accountability thing. Putting it on your calendar is another one.
But having a coach, kind of kicks it up a notch where your coach will give you homework is not the right word, but will give you certain tasks. And you, if you have a call every two weeks, you know, well, I need to get this done not only for myself, but I need to respect my coach because my coach respects me. So I think a coach adds value in the knowledge category and the accountability category chiefly.
Louis Goodman 15:37
Is there some sort of happy medium between doing nothing and you know, running a marathon or cycling a hundred miles?
Carl Ficks 15:48
Walking the dog, taking a hike. There are a number of things you can do. We've all been stuck in airports on long layovers. The airports now all have signs noting walking trails. They'll give you the kilometers and they'll give you how long it will take you to go to terminal A from terminal C. Great place to not only kill time while you're in the airport, but get something out of it.
Louis Goodman 16:14
What sorts of recreational things do you do in your life right now?
Carl Ficks 16:21
I do ski in the winter and again, this fitness of mine, I'm 58 knocking on 59 and, and I'm able to do these things and that adds texture and richness to my life. I'm able to do things with my daughters and my wife, that if I were not physically fit, I couldn't do. So, I ski with my daughters, take hikes with my family. I have a dog, I walk the dog. I love to cycle. I run when I can.
Basically any type of movement. I do golf, although there's not a lot of movement there because I take a cart. So I just like to be out in the fresh air in whatever form it takes. And we take vacations and we kind of style them around, well, can we get in a lot of movement and physical activity?
Louis Goodman 17:11
What sort of travel experience have you and your family had? We love to, we've been to Italy a number of times. Most recently in 2019, we went to Cinque Terre, which is a wonderful place, again, because of the hiking.
Well, the hiking and the pesto and the wine, that's a dynamite combination right there. So you would have, you know, it's five different towns and you just walk these cliffs and we had great hikes during the day and great meals in the evening. So I love Europe, but I also love places in the United States. So, again, we try to design these vacations around moving.
Louis Goodman 17:50
Where are there any books or movies that you would recommend that people read or watch?
Carl Ficks 17:57
Well, there's a great book. It's Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, and he, McDougal, went down and followed this tribe in Mexico that they'll run upwards of 40 miles a day, 40 plus miles a day. And the whole premise of it is that humans are quote, "born to run" end quote.
Louis Goodman 18:16
How do you define success?
Carl Ficks 18:18
Do I live an honorable and ethical life? It's what folks say about Carl Ficks when he's not in the room? Is he a good friend? Is he a good father? Is he a good person? Is he a good husband? Is he empathetic? Is he authentic? Those would be my definitions of success.
Louis Goodman 18:39
Let's say you and your wife came into some real money, several billion dollars, three or four billion dollars. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?
Carl Ficks 18:49
I've thought about this question a lot and it's a two-pronged answer. The first is, I'm a big, I'm very passionate about veteran causes. My father was in World War II. My father-in-law was in World War II and although I never served, I have tremendous respect for those that did. I would sink a lot of money into adaptive housing for military veterans with disabilities. And the second thing is, I did have a brother-in-law who disappeared in 2014, eight years ago at the age of 57. And I was 57 when I left the law, I would spend some money trying to find him because he's never been found. So if I had unlimited resources I would dial in the best forensic team and that whatever it took to find him, that's what I would do.
Louis Goodman 19:41
Let's say you had a magic wand. There was one thing in the world, the legal world, the fitness world, or just the world in general, and there was one thing you could change. What would that be?
Carl Ficks 19:50
I would try to change the divisiveness in the country, which seems to, that the gap becomes more yawning every day. There's a wide divide and it's worrisome to me. If I could wave the magic wand. And it's across, we'll say disciplines. I mean, you've got racial divides, equitable divides, political divides, so I would try to bring that divisiveness together.
Louis Goodman 20:19
Let's say someone gave you 60 seconds on the Super Bowl to say anything you want, really big platform, to the country, to the world. What message would you wanna put out there with a 60 seconds ad on the Super Bowl?
Carl Ficks 20:33
My message, I would address the politicians in this country. And I would say that you, Mr. or Ms. Politician are a role model, people are looking up to you to lead them. So I would simply ask them or remind them to be mindful of their leadership position in this country, and people are watching. It's like having kids, you don't think they're watching you, but they're watching you and you'll pick some, they'll say something and you thought, wow, I said that, but I didn't think they were listening.
People are listening. There's a lack of civility there. And I think that has a domino effect. People say, well, if leader X is not civil, then why do I have to be civil? That's what I would do.
Louis Goodman 21:19
Carl, if someone wants to get in touch with you to discuss coaching, talk to you, how is that best accomplished? How can we get ahold of you?
Carl Ficks 21:31
My website is carlficks.com , C A R L F I C K S .com. My email is email@example.com , and I'm on LinkedIn, I'm on Facebook. I'd love to connect with any folks in your audience.
Louis Goodman 21:46
Is there anything that you wanna talk about that we haven't covered?
Carl Ficks 21:49
No. Other than to thank you for having me and again, on this theme of civility, I think there could be a little more civility in the practice of law. And I think it would, that's a good currency in which to traffic. I think that everybody's got a lot on their plate these days. And I think if we, even though it's an adversarial system, if we keep in mind that our adversaries may be having some issues, to be perhaps a bit more forgiving to not only our colleagues and our friends, but perhaps our adversaries. And I think that would just raise everybody's game. That's my editorial comment. I think there's certainly room for more civility in the practice of law.
Louis Goodman 22:31
Carl Ficks, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It's been a pleasure to talk to you.
Carl Ficks 22:39
Thank you, Louis. It's been a great pleasure of mine to be a guest. And I so appreciate our conversation.
Louis Goodman 22:46
That's it for today's episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and follow the podcast. If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information.
Thanks to my guests and to Joel Katz for music, Bryan Matheson for technical support, Paul Robert for social media and Tracy Harvey. I'm Louis Goodman.
Carl Ficks 23:24
I had a client who had a saying, "Before the fat man gets skinny, the skinny man dies."