How often do you think about how your day to day behaviour is going to impact your future attitude towards your legal career?
If you’re like most young lawyers, probably not that often.
Certainly there is some benefit to “living in the moment” from a professional perspective, as it avoids distractions and helps you to focus.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to zoom out and consider the bigger picture sometimes.
Where are you Headed?
Weigh up your overall impressions of your life as it stands. Are you stressed? Busy? Focused? Passionate? Proud?
I can tell you now – whatever trajectory you feel you’re on, it’s going to get amplified over time.
If you’re a first year lawyer and you think you’re stressed now – wait until the 5th year, or the 10th year. Sure the reasons change, but the attitude doesn’t.
If you’re busy – it gets more busy.
If you’re proud – that will amplify too.
Our habits that surround our attitudes now will gradually snowball and magnify over time.
And that’s what a lot of it is about – attitude. The lawyers who find themselves in charge of firms but unable to rummage up the passion to give a hoot are those who have let their habits slip. They have become self absorbed, tired, and bored with their own lives.
And I don’t want that for myself, or any of you.
So in the interests of helping young lawyers allow themselves to burn out and become passionless, cynical by-products of a damaged system, I thought I’d share a few strategies with you to help keep you in a good place.
A Little Gratitude Goes a Long Way
Gratitude is now such a common recommendation from the realms of positive psychology that it’s almost become trite. It’s a little fascinating to me that people think it’s new, because of course the Bible has been teaching gratitude for a long time now – however, it’s nice that people are catching up.
In the world of risk analysis that we live, it’s easy to focus on the negative in all situations – what could go wrong. After all, that’s kind of our job in a lot of circumstances. Unfortunately it also means that we are training ourselves to avoid the opportunities and the good things that we can be truly grateful for.
A grateful heart will keep you going through so many downturns, and will also keep you grounded in the realities of what you are there for – service.
Some days it’s going to be hard to find things to be grateful for when it seems like the world is crashing down around you, but if you dig deep I’m sure you can.
If you need a nudge, here are some reliable foundations:
- If you have a job – then you can be grateful for what it provides to you
- Got family? There’s another obvious one
- Get up early? You can be grateful for the sunrise
- Work with some good people? You can be grateful for their friendship
The list of things could go on and on, and most of them are pretty obvious if you actually stop to think. It’s not coming up with them that is the hard part, it’s remembering them when it doesn’t seem like you have much to be thankful for.
One of the things I’m grateful for is that I started my career as an outside clerk, and part-time receptionist (during lunch breaks).
It helps me keep my perspective to remember what those times were like. I was uncertain, inexperienced and as likely as not to stuff something up completely. Despite my outer bravado, I was also fairly petrified – it was my first “real” job, and I’d just gotten married and was basically the sole income earner – so a bit of pressure not to get fired.
When I start feeling frustrated with others, or find myself shaking my head in disbelief about some memo, discussion, conclusion or failure – I remind myself that everyone starts somewhere, and we all take different paths, have different views, and different starting points.
So if you’re the kind of lawyer who looks down on everyone around you (secretaries, clerks, administrative staff, and any other non-lawyer you can think of) – then I’d like to remind you that your attitude stinks and that you would crash and burn instantly without those people around you.
Interestingly, a good habit of gratitude will also help keep you humble. So they go nicely together.
As lawyers we can develop into insular, self obsessed creatures worried only about our own priorities, our own budgets, and our own matters.
But that ignores this fundamental fact: other people exist, and need our help.
To use the age old test – nobody ever got to the end of their life and on their death bed said “I wish I’d been less generous”.
Generosity will feeds of gratitude and humility (and now you can see how these come together).
Through gratitude you can articulate and identify what you appreciate, through humility you can respect those around you and see their needs, and through generosity you can deliver on what people will appreciate, and what will help them.
In particular in a law firm, sometimes the 3 minutes you spend when someone had a question will help them complete a task sooner, get it delivered faster, or have it done better. Perhaps your open door policy will allow others to serve clients more effectively, develop into better lawyers, or themselves foster an environment of generous assistance.
Everything you do reflects both on you and those around you.
Start With the Doing
If you struggle in any of these areas, then it would be easy to write this off as an impossible task – after all, it’s difficult to change your internal system.
Here’s a tip – just start doing things that reflect these 3 main areas.
If you want to feel generous, then start giving – your time, your money, your materials, your self.
If you want to feel humble, the behave humbly – you can start by speaking kindly to all, irrespective of their station.
If you want to feel grateful, then practice gratitude – write down one thing each day (or post it on Facebook, if you must) that you are truly grateful for.
These things might sound trite, but you will be amazed what can happen with a bit of deliberate attention in these areas.
No more old, cranky lawyers please – just grateful, humble and generous ones.