A quick Google search reveals that there are approximately 1,315,561 lawyers in the US. I live in Michigan and it looks like I share my state with about 35,000 other lawyers. That is a lot of lawyers! A good part of my practice includes defending lawyers caught in the ethics area, and working with firms on ethics and strategy matters. I get to meet with folks who are under pressure. As I get deeper and deeper into the whys of what brought them to me, I see that pressure is what got them into their problem in the first place.
I hear a lot of stories. I had a client who practiced with his father in the litigation defense field. I asked him how he chose that particular field of law and he looked at me in disbelief. “I followed my father,” he said. I spoke to an attorney who had practiced law in excess of 50 years. He had a few partners over that span but was primarily a sole practitioner. I asked him how he chose his small-town practice as a solo lawyer. “It seemed natural,” he said. “I had an opportunity and I took it.” Another man I worked with specialized in tax work. I asked him about his choice. He said, “I know a lot of rich people and tax help is what they needed!” Each one, and practically all the lawyers I have worked with seemed somewhat shocked at my question. Each one of them gave answers that indicated that they simply took a path based on what OTHERS wanted.
This made a lot of sense to me. I had taken the first lawyer job I was offered. I was an insurance defense attorney at a small but good insurance defense firm. I was privileged to be mentored by three great defense lawyers and spent nearly four years learning how to practice law. It was quite an awakening when I realized that my law school training, though rigorous, did not teach me to practice law. This I had to learn, and learn I did. After those years, I struck out to another firm – basically following another opportunity which I felt offered more money, a more varied litigation practice. I followed what OTHERS wanted again.
It was not until years later that I realized that I really was not happy. I was a very busy Martindale-Hubble AV rated lawyer, A Fellow of the Michigan Bar, but not happy. I discovered my folly. It was then that I decided to DESIGN my practice. I designed my practice around my life, because designing my life around my practice had made me successful but not happy.
The Questions You Need to Ask
If you are practicing law, you may be in a big firm, small firm, public practice or be corporate counsel. There are scores of other law-related jobs and positions. Whatever you are doing, ask yourself, how did I get here? Ask yourself, are you leading a happy, fulfilled life? Chances are, if you are on the path I once took, you took your positions for other people’s reasons and you may not be happy. If you are not joyously, happily, and richly enjoying your life, read on.
Design Your Practice for You
I suggest that you sit down and design your practice to fit your life, instead of the other way around. After all, it is your life that we are talking about, not someone else’s. Heck, you may hesitate to do such a thing. If so, approach it like a fun game. Play with the idea of writing down exactly how you’d like your life to be, then design your practice to fit into your perfect life. Why not play this game? Why not see what you could design that would include more fun, more ease, more richness to your life. Write it out and get it down.
I just finished a coaching session with a mentee. She has completed law school and is prepping for the bar exam. We went through the process of finding out exactly what she wants and exactly how she is going to get there. Her first thought was that her goal was to “pass the bar exam.” After a little examination, she agreed that her true goal was to “pass the bar exam the first time.” This may seem like a small shift but it was a huge shift.
Accountability that Counts
Her new goal brought with it urgency and excitement. We mapped out her daily work. Her daily plan included her bar exam preparation, her children, her health, and her time. She then asked me to hold her accountable. We signed an agreement and as soon it was signed, we talked about things she hated and made a list. I then told her to make out a check for $1,000.00 to her ex-husband. Reluctantly she addressed an envelope to him and slid the signed check into it. She sealed it and handed it to me. She acknowledged that if she got off track or procrastinated her bar prep, that I would mail out the check. It is early but she is right on track. That is accountability.
Design your practice then ask someone to help hold you accountable. Map what you will have to do to make your practice dovetail with your perfect life. You have a choice – drift along as you have done or take action. Design your practice and you are much more likely to be enjoying your practice – and your life – a year from now. You will also relieve a lot of pressure on yourself long term. Your efforts will make it much less likely that you will have to call someone like me in the future to help you out of a mess.
In the comments below, share your most powerful insight from this post.
Brian Vincent has over 30 years of experience as a business law attorney and has worked extensively with business owners to protect and defend their interests. In addition, he coaches people to become more flexible and effective in responding to business and personal challenges. To learn more, contact Brian online or at (616) 608-4440.