Monday, October 9, 2006

Concepts of time

This is an extract from Why Lawyers Should Surf co-authored with Dr Michelle Tempest which is now available on Waterstone's website here or can be ordered from XPL Publishing on 0870 079 8897 (p&p is included). Further extracts can be found here. To see a review of the book in The Independent click here.

Time. Hours, minutes, seconds. Notes which are the measure of life and facilitate an historical perspective. Help us plan for the future. Yet there are some moments in our lives when we feel outside of time. Rising above it. Stepping outside of time’s heavy march. Moments which engrave the soul; moments imprinted upon the memory before re-joining that march. Some surfers might say that this is how it feels when they are on a wave. Others might feel this in communion with God or in the purest moments of love or feeling at one with nature. It is the moments when the demands of time are forgotten that are often the most significant. Auden in The Waters:“With time in tempest everywhere…The waters long to hear our questions put / Which would release their longed-for answer, but.”

Blake spoke about being outside of time, “[i]f the doors of perception were to be cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite.” Yet time is used by everyone as a measure or a gauge. T.S.Eliot said that he had “measured his life out in coffee spoons”. Most use the calendar, the seasons, the years and ultimately the generations. It helps to give meaning, perspective. Yet, if too much attention is given to the passing of time, perhaps the vision and the bigger picture is lost. If this is the case, it is certainly true for lawyers as they take the measuring of time to its extreme. They make it into a commodity. Something to be bought and sold. The amount of billable hours worked is translated into someone’s worth to a firm.
This in itself can be no bad thing as it makes us all aware of the need to value the passing of time. Economists would describe time is a scarce resource and that any use of it has an opportunity cost, in other words they are stating the obvious: that you could have been doing something else instead. The risk for lawyers is that they always see this opportunity cost as a billable hour. This of course risks skewing the view of time, particularly when the price of perhaps the most precious activities can never be valued; as the Barclaycard ad says, are priceless. What price, the soul?

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