By Michael A. Hackard

Most of us have and enjoy nicknames. At their best they are a sign of affection, familiarity and humor. At their worst they are name calling. They sometimes follow us throughout our lives and at other times are long lost to passing youth or changing circumstances.

Nicknames are best when positive or at least acknowledged to be acceptably humorous. Name calling, on the other hand, can be mean and harmful. Name calling does nothing positive for the name caller or the name caller’s victim.

Nicknaming is best when it brings some comfort to the named – not embarrassment. That said, nicknames can have a funny edge to them. My dad’s best friend called him “Heavy.” My dad wasn’t that heavy, but the name stuck and became part of a special language between friends.

I’ve had a number of nicknames. The nicknames bring back happy memories of the author: “Mick” (my dad), “Kid” (a judge who encouraged me to become a lawyer and hired me in my last two years of law school), “The Hack is back” (a friend and co-worker in the legislature, now a judge, who often coupled the sobriquet with a brief dance when first seeing me arrive at the office), “Bo” (my cousin, Gary) and “Mickey” (my grandmother Muzz and my wife Lisa).

While Muzz has been gone for some forty years, Lisa has kept my nickname “Mickey” alive. Gary still calls me “Bo” or when in a special complimentary mood “Kingfish.” Lisa (“Matisse”) and Gary (also “Bo”) have their own nicknames. Changing times bring changing names. I am now called “Boompa” by my grandchildren – a nickname that is easy to cherish.

We have a wall in our law offices with pictures of sports heroes centered on a large motivational poster. The poster depicts our law firm logo between two mantras, “Top of the Game” and “Committed to Excellence.” Anyone coming into our office must pass the wall, our legal team included. The wall is part of our landscape – sometimes actually looked at but also easily overlooked.

Our wall’s sports heroes performed at a level that we admire and aspire to accomplish. Five of the wall’s sports heroes particularly exemplify the “Top of the Game” performance level. Joe Montana is “Joe Cool.” “Cool” not as in Elvis, but cool as unflappable under pressure. His book’s title, “Joe Montana’s Art and Magic of Quarterbacking” captures Montana’s mystique – “art” and “science.” Montana’s art included being “cool” under pressure. It is an art worthy of emulation.

Running a law firm includes many pressures. Pressures of daily practice include pressing time-related tasks, engagements in adversarial relationships and the coupling of commitment to excellence with our clients’ ability or desire to pay for that commitment. There is a need to be “cool.” Emotional swings, while understandable and at times unavoidable, assist little in the art or science of lawyering. Like Montana we are often called upon to “read defenses.” The defenses to be read might include motivation, probable endurance of our adversaries as well as perceiving opportunities for settlement. Mixed with the art of law is the science of legal precedence. Accomplishing the effective mix of art and science is part of our firm’s promise that we are “Committed to Excellence.”

Bill Walsh is also on our wall. Walsh was known as the “Genius.” I once had the privilege of being the Genius’s lawyer. I’ll never forget having lunch with Walsh and talking legal strategy with one of the sports world’s greatest strategists. It was humbling. Walsh wanted to know how we were going to win, he made his comments, we executed and we won.

Jack Nicklaus, the “Golden Bear,” is also on our wall. It is said that he acquired his nickname because of his blonde hair, size, and aggressive play. It has been written that early in Nicklaus’s career his bulky physique had earned him the sobriquets of “Whale Boy” and “Fat Jack.” His sheer excellence in golf earned him the more positive and evocative “Golden Bear” moniker. We admire the Nicklaus brand of aggressiveness. There are few better sports figures “Committed to Excellence.”

We also have Muhammad Ali, the “Greatest,” on our wall. Ali is pictured towering over the vanquished Sonny Liston – floored by Ali with one punch in the first round of their 1965 heavyweight championship fight. Ali is gesturing to the stricken Liston to get up and fight.

The Ali-Liston photo was on the cover of Sports Illustrated issue of “The Century’s Greatest Sports Photos,” an honor well deserved. I remember the fight – a fight that pitted the speed and talent of Ali against the mean, powerful and threatening Liston. It was great to see the good guy win – and win so decisively. We often fight for the “good guy” against an adversary that is as mean, powerful and threatening as Liston. Our client’s adversary may be only economic, but the price of failure can be a knockout punch. The Ali victory photo is inspiring to us: Keep up the fight no matter the strength or threats of the adversary.

One of our wall’s most inspirational photos is that of Lou Gehrig, just 36 years old, giving his farewell speech, “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth,” to a packed Yankee Stadium. Gehrig, dying of ALS (now commonly known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease”), exemplified the grace and perseverance that inspired a country. Gehrig was honest and humble. It is said that his only vices were chewing gum and an occasional cigarette. Gehrig’s speech and all that it represents is truly “Top of the Game.” Gehrig’s gracious optimism and gratitude are worthy of emulation during the best of times and the seemingly worst of times. For us, Gehrig, more than all of the wall’s sports heroes, serves as an inspiration in everyday life. The irony that the “Ironman” would have his life and career cut short by a tragic disease, is eclipsed by Gehrig’s self-described nickname “The Luckiest Man on the Face of the Earth.” Gehrig’s grace, humility, honesty and perseverance give life and dignity to adversity – virtues that should not be overlooked on life’s journey.

© Copyright Michael A. Hackard, 2012. All rights reserved.