Walt Hampton, Founder & Chairman
Summit Success International
West Cork, Ireland
Pamela: Welcome to Lawyer of the Week. I’m so glad to have you today and I’m really pleased to introduce you to our Lawyer of the Week, Walt Hampton. And let me tell you a little bit about Walt. Walt Hampton JD is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Book Yourself Solid, Worldwide. He is a business coach, management consultant and a leadership trainer. Founder of Positive Leadership Academy, he is a leading authority on the application of positive psychology in the workplace.
He is the best-selling author of Journeys On the Edge: Living a Life That Matters, a two-time winner of the North American Book Awards, he’s also the author of The Power Principle of Time Mastery: Do Less, Make More, Have Fun. As a 1984 graduate of the Cornell Law School, Walt practiced law in the areas of corporate and commercial litigation and criminal defense. He was the managing partner of a law firm for more than 30 years. Walt’s passions are high-altitude mountaineering, ultra distance running, blue water sailing and adventure photography. He and his wife, the author Ann Sheybani, live in Castletown- Castle Townshend, Ireland. Did I say that right, Walt?
Walt: Yes, you did. You forgot to say that he’s a legend in his own mind.
Pamela: He’s a legend in his own mind and I also have to say that Walt is my coach, as well. And he has really- before we start the interview- I really took the moment to thank him for all of his encouragement along the way, so uhh- Walt.
Walt: You’re an amazing visionary entrepreneur, Pamela. And it has been such a pleasure to know you over the years.
Pamela: Well, I have appreciated your guidance and coaching. So, we’re going to ask you the Lawyer of the Week questions and the first one is what and when- When and what made you decide to become a lawyer?
Walt: Well, like way too many of us, Pamela, I became a lawyer by default. I just kind of ended up in law school. I was the oldest son of an Irish Catholic mother and as such, it was expected that I would go to the seminary and become a priest. And I did go to the seminary. And I spent six years there…until I discovered that I really liked girls. That didn’t work out well.
My dad was a doctor and so, the next best thing seemed to be to go to medical school. I went to medical school, and I loved medical school till I discovered I didn’t really like sick people. Poor number three, the default option, was law school and my grandfather had been a lawyer and it seemed like- it just seemed like the next best thing. So, that’s how I ended up in law school and it really took me a while to figure out, though, why that mattered and why the work mattered.
But that’s- that was the journey to the legal education, to start with.
Pamela: Wonderful. Now tell us about your practice- your biggest wins and your biggest challenges.
Walt: So, my practice initially, like many of my classmates who were scheduled to go to the big cities- to the big law firms, I ended up going into a big firm and I was a litigation associate on the track to partnership. But I always, always, always, had an entrepreneurial dent and so, even though I had an offer of partnership at the big firm, I left and started my own practice in 1989 and built a litigation firm. And it was primarily corporate and commercial litigation at the outset, and later we did criminal defense- white-collar criminal defense, as well as criminal defense for good suburban folks who got themselves into trouble. And I loved my litigation practice, and I loved managing the firm.
And I think the biggest challenges always were doing both of those things well: managing the firm and being a lawyer. They’re really two separate roles. And of course Michael Gerber and his Emeth Revisited talks about the importance of the two separate roles. But being in those two roles and balancing those roles of the Chief Operating Officer, taking care of people, taking care of HR, taking care of all of the challenges of the administration of the firm, as well as engaging in the practice of law…I think those- I think that was the biggest challenge over the years. And in that challenge, came many, many lessons.
Pamela: Okay. Now, how did you make the transition from being a lawyer with a law practice to becoming an executive coach?
Walt: Well, that’s a very interesting story, but I’ll give you the short one, Pamela. So, when I was married to my beautiful wife, Ann Sheybani, the author, nearly…oh, a dozen years ago now, she gave us, as a gift, a weekend with Tony Robbins’ Unleash the Power Within Program and I didn’t want to go. I didn’t want to drink the Kool-Aid. And yet, I went and I did drink the Kool-Aid. I was fascinated by the whole area of personal and professional development and I was fascinated by the work that he was doing. At the event, there was an offer for further training with Tony and Ann and I decided to enroll in Tony’s Two-Year Mastery University, which was not an insignificant investment. But it was an investment that I- that changed our entire lives, which really ended up with, you know, where we are today. Being able to live and work anywhere in the world. And we do live, you know- we live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, in County Cork, Ireland now.
But along the way, I had an offer from Tony’s team to train as a coach and the offer came out of the blue. And I had- I didn’t even know what coaching really was at the time, but I realized that I could use a lot of my listening skills, my problem-solving skills, my advocacy skills, my business skills…I could use them collaboratively. And while litigation was great, I had found that it was very abrasive over time. That the adversarial process was very wearing. I realized that through coaching, I could use a lot of my skills collaboratively and that at the end of an engagement, that people were happy.
And so, with the introduction of the world of coaching, I accepted the offer to train with Tony, and I became one of his business results coaches and loved coaching. And again, because I was entrepreneurial, Ann and I went out, we began our own personal professional development firm, Summit Success, and now we get to do this work with amazing people like you all around the world.
Pamela: Yes, uhh- tell our audience a little bit about your lifestyle because it’s very fascinating. I just personally went to Ireland. They had a training there and I was a wonderful- it was a wonderful opportunity. And I met Walt and Ann and got to see the beautiful town they live in in Cork Ireland, and- it’s West Cork- and you know, they’re just such an example of defining their own terms in their own life. Could you tell us a little bit- tell us a little bit about that and what is behind that?
Walt: I think what’s interesting, Pamela- and it’s a great question for your audience- is that so often as lawyers, we get caught up in doing things in a particular way. I came out of Cornell Law School and there was a particular path to tread. You know, that you- you went to a big firm, you became an associate, you worked hard, you put in the 70 and 80 hour weeks, you became a partner, you got the corner office. It was a particular track that we were kind of put on. What I believe is that we have, as lawyers in particular, because we have this- this JD- we have this wonderful degree, we get to do this wonderful work in the world. But as human beings, we have the opportunity and the privilege to co-create our lives.
Now, we don’t have to go down a cookie-cutter chute and do things in a particular way. We can create the work and the life we love very intentionally and we can create our lives and wrap our work around that, rather than simply having work and try to fit in our life. That’s what so many of us do. We have, you know- our work is all-consuming in our- we’re putting the life in around it, as opposed to happen- co-creating a life that we want. And the way that we want it and designing our life- our work- to support that life. And that was the journey that Ann and I embarked on a decade ago. We began to imagine- everything begins in the imagination- you know, the light bulb began in the imagination, the Sistine Chapel began in the imagine, the internet began in somebody’s imagination- and so we began to imagine what we would like our lives to look like. We would like to be able to to live and work anywhere we want in the world.
You mentioned that I- you know, I- we do we have this magnificent home overlooking the sea in County Cork, Ireland. But today, I’m in Mystic, Connecticut because we have some work to do on the east coast of the United States. And next week, I’ll be up in Stowe, Vermont. The week- week after that’ll be back home in County Cork, Ireland. And we get to work- we get to to share time, like we’re doing here together today, anywhere in the world because that’s the way we’ve created it. And some of the lawyers I’ve worked with get it and they are co-creating lives that matter to them. You know, they’re using this beautiful gift that we have as lawyers to do justice, to solve complicated problems, but they’re also claiming for themselves an amazing lifestyle, which is something that we deserve, as lawyers.
Pamela: Wow. That’s great encouragement and empowerment to the lawyers who are listening. So, let’s just ask you this question about- as an executive coach, who would be a perfect referral to you?
Walt: Well, you’ll know this term, Pamela, because you’ve gone through some of my Book Yourself Solid training. We- we create, as entrepreneurs- and I certainly encourage my lawyer clients to do this- we create what’s called a “red velvet rope policy.” And the metaphor, of course, comes from those swanky clubs we see in New York or Paris with the red velvet rope across the entrance and the security person just allowing in those special people.
And what I encourage my lawyer colleagues and my entrepreneurial colleagues to do is to- is to answer the question that you’re asking in a very particular way, which is: who are those clients you do your best work with? And to create a red velvet rope that only allows, into your world, those very best clients. Because when we’re doing work with our ideal clients, we’re doing our very best work. And we’re happy. We’re joyful. We’re satisfied and the client goes away happy, and joyful, and satisfied, so it’s a beautiful question and I so appreciate you asking it.
And I ask- actually articulate it in my LinkedIn profile and on my website. It tends to be, lawyers- um- professionals, c-level executives, entrepreneurs- but they have a variety of characteristics. You mentioned that I’m a high-altitude mountaineer, ultra-distance runner, blue water sail. I’m kind of an adventuresome person. I like adventuresome, fun people to work with. I like people who are not afraid of taking risks. You know, if people want to play it safe, I’m probably not the guy for them. If they’re willing to be coached- if they’re willing to be pushed a little- you know, you went to some pretty uncomfortable places when we were doing our work together and it paid off in a huge way. But not everybody’s willing to be pushed that way and so I do my very best work with people who are willing to be pushed, who are willing to take a bit of risk.
Umm- I’m a big believer in the f-word. I know I can’t say that on your Lawyer the Week… but fun. I like- I like people who- who enjoy life, who like to have fun. And so a lot of the work I do with my ideal client- with that ideal referral- are people who have a sense of humor, or a sense of adventure. A sense of fun. And then this last piece is really important: a belief that the best is yet to come. That, you know, the entire story hasn’t been written. That every day, we have the opportunity to wake up, to begin again, to co-create this amazing gift, which is our life.
Pamela: That’s excellent. Thank you so much, Walt. You know, I, as a person who you have coached- I have to say that you are so committed and it’s helped me in my coaching business, to learn your practices because there’s not half of Walt there for you. It’s like 150 or 200 percent of Walt there ready to have you- to help you to have your dreams, so I can say that firsthand. So, let’s just tell me- tell us a little bit about the legacy that you want to leave. I guess because you and Ann so co-create your life together, I guess I’d say what legacy do you and Ann want to leave?
Walt: Yeah. Thank you. I received an email this morning from the wife of someone that I worked with five years ago and she said, “Walt, I would so grateful if you would send to me a copy of your most recent book, inscribed to my husband because I’d like to give it to him as a surprise for Christmas this year.” She said, “Every time we get into a talk about life and the direction of where we want to go, he brings your name up because you made a difference for him.” And that was a very special email to receive. We- the impact that we make in other people’s lives is like a pebble in a pond. You know, it ripples out across time and we never know really
whose lives we’re gonna really touch and change, but I want to throw a lot of pebbles into the pond and create amazing ripples across time, so that when all is said and done, we have touched a lot of lives.
Pamela: Around the world.
Walt: Around the world, yep.
Pamela: That which you’re- you’re doing, you will continue to do, and I just feel like you- like you said, “the best is yet to come.” For you and for everyone’s life who you touch. Because one thing that I have to say is that when you talk about your ideal client, I guess one of the things is that, if a person wants to settle for mediocrity, Walt Hampton is not the person you want to go to. So with that said, we always ask- because in- in the spirit of the lawyer well-being initiative, that’s being initiated across the country- in the U.S., I’d like to ask you: name something that you do to manage your stress levels.
Walt: Yeah. And I am so grateful for that initiative. Lawyer wellness- professional wellness- is one of the core centerpieces of my wheelhouse. I speak to lawyer groups all around the world on wellness and well-being, and I’m passionate about it. We have- I just think we have got one of the most amazing, if not the most amazing, professions on the planet. We do get to impact lives, and do justice, and help people in times of greatest need. And we have one of the highest levels of dissatisfaction, and stress, and substance abuse, and divorce rates. And that’s a crime. And I think that with a- with a few basic practices, we can switch it up. And so I- I will- I will give you more than one because I think it’s important.
Walt: So, for me, I have three practices that I do every single day. They just are basic practices. I run. Ann and I are distance runners, but we do, you know, five, six, seven miles in the morning together along the beautiful Irish coast. I have a sitting meditation practice that I’ve known for 25 years. Simple breath meditation is, perhaps, the most important practice of my entire life. It has changed everything for me. If there were one thing that someone could do is adopt a very simple, simple meditation practice. In fact, the research now shows that just five minutes a day over six months can actually change your gene expression and reduce your inflammatory response, reduce your stress response, increase your focus and acuity. Just that one simple thing could change everything.
And then the third practice that I have every single day is a journaling practice of just- just free-flowing with thoughts and ideas. It helps me to see patterns, it helps me to see places where I’m trapped, it helps me to see where I’m hitting resistance or obstacles, it helps me to see patterns, both good and bad. And so running, sitting and journaling are my three basic practices. We’re fanatical about what we put in our bodies. We’re vegetarians. I think how we fuel ourselves really matters. We’re pretty methodical about getting to the gym on a regular basis. In terms of a lawyers’ well-being and practice, I think we can do much better with- with our- planning our days.
I worked with a lawyer years ago who had a beautiful multi-colored calendar, and I said to him, “Well, where’s your white space?” And he said, “What do you mean?” I said, “You know, the space in-between.” And he said, “I didn’t know you were supposed to have white space.” And as lawyers, we tend to play full out 24/7 365 and we’re not machines. And so, creating white space time in our days, where it’s not back-to-back, where we’re creating time off the grid, away from our technology, where we’re reclaiming time and space to recharge, to recreate the base for that word. And so, that’s a long answer to your very simple question, but it’s such an important question.
Pamela: Very excellent answer, given the nature of the law profession and the- what’s going on in the legal- among lawyers. So uhh- Walt, I so appreciate you being our Lawyer of the Week. You’ve given so much wisdom, and enthusiasm, guidance and coaching during your interview and I’m sure that our audience will totally benefit from that. And again, I want to thank you so much for being my coach and helping me in my life to reach beyond.
Walt: Such a privilege to have this time with you today, Pamela. Thank you for inviting me.
Pamela: Okay. Thank you.
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