As the only child of a single mother living in Baltimore, Craig A. Thompson grew up finding ways to entertain himself to stay busy. “My mind was always wandering … asking ‘What’s next? What can I do?’” he recalled. In high school, he washed dishes for a restaurant, played baseball and basketball and was in the marching band.
That fill-every-minute mind-set continues today in Thompson’s professional pursuits and his personal life. He’s a corporate lawyer focused on product liability and litigation and a partner at Venable in Washington and Baltimore and a part-time preacher at Celebration Church in Columbia.
Thompson also operates Thompson Communications LLC, which manages his speaking engagements and book signings. He gives motivational speeches at elementary schools, legal associations and civic organizations. He’s also written and published two children’s books and plans to begin a third book this year.
He had a six-week bench trial at the start of the year, a February full of Black History Month talks, and he is preparing for commencement speeches in the weeks ahead. He usually works 80-hour weeks, including some time on “planes and trains” preparing for his next speaking gig.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to hold back any talents if I can do certain things at the same time and be successful,” Thompson said. “The reality is I’m not going to live forever … I have a strong desire to do as much as I can in the short period I have.”
His motivation for making every minute count is part spiritual. He said he feels he needs to use his gifts to help people and to share lessons from the Bible, black inventors or his own life. And he said he’s also driven to support his family.
Thompson, 43, said he follows Stephen Covey’s suggestion to manage priorities more than time. He follows what he calls four Fs: faith, family, finances and fitness. “The family and finances go hand-in-hand. There’s nothing more important than making sure my family’s provided for,” he said. He and his wife, Deborah St. Lawrence Thompson, have three children, ages 8, 6 and 17 months.
When his schedule and to-do list overflow, he said he takes time to “just evaluate everything and prioritize. I try to draw the distinction between what’s important and what’s urgent” and what items can wait until later.
He’s a rarity in the legal profession, which demands long hours and a full attention to the details of cases, new clients and more. No major organization tracks how many lawyers have second jobs, but it’s likely to be less than the 5 percent of workers who, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, collected two or more paychecks in March.
Thompson said he sees all of his professions as related. So when he’s speaking to a group, he makes it clear that he’s a lawyer and has picked up clients from speaking engagements. Sometimes when he’s meeting with potential clients and learns they have children, he gives them a copy of his children’s book “The ABCs of Black History” as a “unique marketing gift.”
“Doing good for society — the firm and I look at that as a critical part of my business development,” he said. He said he has focused his community service on young people and education — “that’s where I get my biggest thrill.”
In a December 2010 commencement address at the University of Maryland, he told of “a stack of rejection letters from various law schools.” He was accepted to and graduated from Maryland, the same place he earned his undergraduate degree a few years earlier. ‘“Nothing takes the place of persistence,’” he told the graduates, quoting president Calvin Coolidge.
Thompson said he tries to involve his children in many of his activities, so they were right up front when he was giving that commencement address. The three are with him at Celebration Church, too, where he preaches a handful of times a year.
Thompson said he has learned to be more selective in what he accepts, whether an invitation to speak or a board seat. When he was single, he said yes to everything. “I’ve gotten much better, much smarter about saying no,” he said.