Successful (Happy) Lawyering

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Can lawyering and life balance coexist- This question – one that we hear all too frequently – is not farfetched. The road to legal-career success is filled with litigating cases, negotiating deals, achieving recognition and acquiring status symbols along the way. It’s also a road paved with long hours, high stress, constant conflict, addiction and depression.

Recent studies paint a startling picture. Depression, anxiety and substance abuse among lawyers has skyrocketed, far outpacing the general population, and attrition from practice is commonplace.

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In view of these trends, we invite you to take a close look at your definition of success. How do busy lawyers achieve success and balance in their professional and personal lives- How do they reap the rewards of a successful law practice without developing unhealthy habits and hurting personal relationships along the way- Challenging work and material rewards reaped with insufficient attention paid to what matters to us most, fail to satisfy our deep psychological needs as humans and in the many roles we assume in our relationships. To have it all – a profitable career and a great life – we need practices that support both.

If there is a secret to being a happy, successful lawyer, it is this: Align your values with your practice, and make all of your relationships authentic.

This is easier said than done in a competitive legal environment driven by the bottom line. Yet studies conducted around the globe confirm that when the lives we lead and our core values diverge, well-being plummets. The good news is that realigning our values and our work, leads to success and fulfillment.

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To achieve health and happiness in the legal profession, key decisions can shift your life in a positive direction. The first is to identify your core values, then use those as the drivers to becoming an integrated person, one who recognizes that all aspects of your life – your health, wellness, family life, personal growth, financial standing, recreational activities and unique talents – impact your legal career. Looking at your life holistically allows you to bring your values, priorities and humanity to your practice of law, empowering you to be a collaborative colleague and a creative lawyer.

We’ve identified five pillars that support creating a successful, happy life in law.

No. 1 – Be Authentic

When we’re authentic in our interactions, we build trust and likeability, and turn contacts into meaningful business relationships. Authentic business relationships underpin, sustain, and grow an attorney’s book of business.

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No. 2 – Make Conscious Choices

With each choice that we make, we create the world in which we live and work. We’re in charge of our thoughts and our behavior, and the choices we make are reflected both in attitude and in action. Law firms are high-stress environments. Any choice that reflects thoughtfulness or selfcare is one that serves you, your firm, your clients, and your family. To be calm amidst the chaos, ask, “What is the result I want-” before reacting. Well thought out, intentional choices keep us in charge of our lives.

No. 3 – Be Open-Minded

Being open-minded means suspending judgment in our daily practice and replacing it with curiosity. When we make judgments based on either-or thinking, we limit our ability to come up with outstanding outcomes. An open mind allows us to address our clients’ unmet needs. To open our minds to new solutions, it helps to move away from binary thinking and identify at least four different perspectives to the situation at hand.

No. 4 – Be Proactive

Proactive lawyers respond to change and challenges with new strategies and innovative approaches.

One strategy is to practice detached involvement – keeping our emotional distance while staying intellectually engaged in the face of difficult situations. Another is to listen attentively without preconceived notions or solutions. Challenging people and situations provide us with opportunities to practice being proactive. Welcome them.

No. 5 – Be Innovative

Being innovative means applying curiosity to your legal analysis. New clients, new cases and new deals all require new thinking. Originality is the foundation of legal thinking. Successful attorneys develop innovative partnerships and collaborative efforts. Analytical thinking – thinking like a “lawyer” – does not preclude creative problem- solving.

While some lawyers appear to achieve success and happiness effortlessly, for most, it is an intentional process. By being intentional about what successful (happy) lawyering means to you each day – and owning it – success and happiness, as you define it, is yours. Lee Broekman, MA, and Judith Gordon, Esq. 

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