Competence: The Path to Acquiring It

I have not been blogging much lately. I had a flurry of activity this summer on my “J. Burton Hunter III and Assocs” YouTube Video Channel. Please consider subscribing to my channel, and send me feedback or questions that I may answer for you.

And, of course, there is my fully searchable blog, all 1400 pages and 400 articles. It’s still there at .  It and my book are titled “Perspectives of a Small Town Lawyer”; you can get it in paperback or Kindle from

Most of my stuff is informational or “how-to”, but I sometimes I venture into subjects, religion, philosophy, or politics, that include some of my serious thinking. I believe I am not a shallow or superficial person.

They say a lawyer should not reveal his politics or religious beliefs for fear of alienating her or his potential clients. Sorry, I am past that. If you want to hire a lawyer who believes the same as you, go for it. But, remember, you need an advocate, not a cheerleader. If you are nasty, abusive, or dogmatic, prepare to change. I won’t mirror you or channel you. I am me. But your bullies will think I am a bully. Get it?

If you want competence, seriousness of purpose, and an ability to represent you regardless of your politics or religion (Remember, there is a limit!), then I hope I am your man.

I write this post with former President Barack Obama’s searing appraisal of Donald J. Trump on the day of the last debate ringing in my ears. What hit me the hardest was when the former President said,

“I did hope, for the sake of our country, that Donald Trump might show some interest in taking the job seriously, that he might come to feel the weight of the office, and discover some reverence for the democracy that had been placed in his care. But he never did. Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t.”

I’ve heard it all, read most of the “tell-all” books on Trump, and heard the accusations about the man’s venality and immorality. I detest “The Donald” because none of the serious role models in my life have been anything like him. He is the embodiment of the man my beloved Mother DID NOT want me to be.

Now, some “memoir”. I remember when I was in the 3rd grade, waking from a nap on my bed inside the dormer of the little house we rented at the top of Park View Hill, on The Fisher Farm, in Ohio County (Wheeling). I can see the dust motes floating in the sunbeam.

And I was thinking. I thought as hard and long as I was capable of at the time. What was going on between my ears? How had I come to exist? What was “thinking”? What IS going on? And how was it going to turn out? I was trying to peer into my own brain. It was so unsettling that I have returned to that moment thousands of times. I am still “thinking”.

Perhaps I had already heard some “space operas” on the radio, but we were pre-t.v., and only science fiction had an Internet, and it sure didn’t predict OUR Internet. Dick Tracy did have a wrist phone. But it was a simple walkie-talkie.

Yet, I knew these were serious questions.

Around that time, perhaps 4th grade, I remember being at the back of Park View Grade School next to my teacher’s new Chevy, trying to picture becoming an adult, or growing old, or dying, or going crazy. (A dear aunt had schizophrenia and “heard voices” and I couldn’t imagine my mind doing that to me.)

Not sure why I still visualize that car or that space, but I could take you there tomorrow. I have visited that moment repeatedly too.

My adult future was so far off that it was like hearing that the universe will become “flat” in 16 billion years. It was, simply, inconceivable that I would ever become that old.

I believe my grandparents were then 2-4 years YOUNGER than I am today. Now it is our beloved grandchildren who are thinking such thoughts.

Two more memories:

Growing up as a teenager, I would find myself “in the doghouse”. Somehow I had done something that started a row with my sisters. I did not want to be a bad big brother, but I was 3-10 years older, was the “privileged” oldest, and the only boy, and kept discovering that I had “stepped in it”. It happened many times. I would play the tape back in my head (8 mm. not even Super 8), and could not even remember when I had got off track. Truth is, it was rarely, if ever, their fault. I was hopeless, impulsive, and thoughtless, not cruel (I hope).

During those teen years, I had to learn “how to do stuff”. I would spend an hour agonizing over a few calls to remind people of a 4-H meeting. The anxiety over stringing a few words together was palpable. And when I finished a job like cleaning the garage, my Mother would critique me, and I’d wrack my brain over why I missed so many details. I never seemed to get it right, and she was not unreasonable.

But, somehow, through trial and error, presenting 4-H demonstrations, completing my exhibits,  having to make calls, serve on committees, dress properly, and carry myself with confidence, something BIG happened.

Call it bragging, but it is true. I became COMPETENT. I learned to form stable relationships, and I am blessed with my near-perfect partner of 51 years, Nancy. We were able to pass that on, and we are blessed with focused and mature and capable adult children. It was not guaranteed, and much luck was involved. But I am truly blessed.

Now back to Obama’s critique of Trump. Barack Obama hoped Trump would take the job seriously, hoped he would do his homework,  and hoped he would learn from his advisors and the experts and tone down the partisanship. (Rolling Stones’ classic plays in my head.)

I have heard from a Trump supporter the idea that even though his hero is not a “truth teller”, “He gets things done”.

Really?! I respectfully disagree. Chronic Liars do not perform well. And lawyers who lie do a disservice to their clients.

What if a person hasn’t read a serious book for years,

doesn’t study briefing books,

has no grounding in history,

has no burning interest in science and the future or in truth,

does not understand or care about the environment,

does not know “Jim Crow” from “Old Crow”,

and lacks a value system (except transactional),

while living in a world where he cannot truly feel love or care about anyone but himself?

The answer, as President Obama so strikingly noted, is that such a person cannot competently perform any job, especially one of the world’s most challenging.

A friend noted that even organized crime needs “truth-tellers” to run its business operation. Who can work with a person who virtually never tells the truth? Not I.

How did I become competent? It was not by self-discipline early on. I did not pay attention in class, did not study hard enough, wandered into myriad subjects other than what my teachers wanted, and absorbed the things around me like a sponge.

Turns out that I learned a lot, but in my own way. Linsly Military Institute did a great job imposing structure on me. It made me work much harder than I wanted, but, according to my teachers who compared my SAT scores with my grades, not enough!

By college, I was supposed to have self-motivation. Not! I am lucky I got through and lucky I “tested well”. Without that and without some strong recommendations, I would not even been admitted to law school. I was distracted, in love, unhappy, and facing the draft. Not a good combination.

It was very sobering to realize how hard law school was going to be. I hated it. I resisted thinking like a lawyer. I thought it was too artificial and too boring!

But it was time to be a grown-up. Our new baby John arrived during finals,  the day after the massacre at Kent State. I was scraping the bottom of the class barrel and driving around Morgantown to avoid the demonstrators and see my wife and baby.

But, with a temporary deferral because of shoulder surgery, I even got some good grades in my third year of law school including a top grade in Jurisprudence, “the philosophy of the law”.

With a gentle lift in the form of a strong letter from my old boss at The Warwood Tool Company, Bob Burke, who happened to be the county Democratic Chairman and our congressman Robert Mollohan, I got into the USAF JAG Corp.

My first boss was “A.W.O.L.” from alcoholism. I was rudderless for two years, doing my job and attending his meetings.

But I did work hard and learned from my mistakes. I learned that my advice to the first sergeants and commanders was sound, if they followed it! But how to get them, or any client, to follow my advice? That’s another story.

My new boss, Jim Ingram, gave me a chance to prove myself. Too late to make it a career, but not too late to leave the USAF, after four years, with substantial self-confidence.

The Honorable Judge (name omitted) did his level best to destroy that confidence, so I learned how to win appeals to the WV Supreme Court. To this day I consider a polite and considerate judge to be a treasure. A bad one can destroy a young lawyer. I wasn’t going to allow that. It didn’t.

In 2018, I made a 40-minute video with the help and guidance of Jenkins Ford Videographer Aaron Kittle on my love affair with cars and how my Sports Car Club of America amateur racing career added to that confidence.

Of course, if you are going to spend a career contesting legal controversies, you either mature in your work ethic and competence or it eats you alive. Well, 48 years after graduation, I am still here, feeling strong and happy, but never free of anxiety before a serious hearing or a trial. It is no wonder that so many lawyers have substance abuse issues and suffer from depression.

My point? The country does not need an incompetent President,

and you don’t need an incompetent lawyer.

Give me a call. 304 472-7477.

Or write me at . 

This post was written by Burton Hunter

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