How to fall in love again with Legal Practice
Do you remember the catalyst for choosing law? The ‘Why’ question.
In my case, it was the opportunity to move back to my place of birth (Devon), out of London and get a degree. I didn’t have much time to make a decision on law as a future career, but to try and make sure I was doing the right thing, I did study A-Level law.
The thought of being a lawyer only came to fruition having spent some time in my final year working in the University’s Free Representation Unit. I loved it. Most of all, I felt a deep sense of satisfaction in helping people less fortunate than myself.
I always knew that I would not end up doing publicly funded work or working for private clients which seems slightly odd. My love was business. But for no other reason than I thought I could make a difference to the development of the business, which in turn would (or at least could) have a knock on effect to the people in charge and the employees. Naive possibly but that was my motivation. I certainly didn’t expect to be rewarded any better than I had been in recruitment but I did think that it would offer me a certain degree of stability that was difficult to maintain in a sales driven job.
And to cut a long story short… I ended up doing something that was practically the same. The same in the sense that my performance was measured by how much I could bill. Not how technically competent I was (as long as I didn’t screw up then it was assumed that I was a half decent chap), or how much I superplease the client or even what sort of clients I had won. No pure and simple it was how much I could bill. Without being boastful, billing was never the problem. The biggest problem was staying motivated when no matter how much I did it never appeared to be enough. It felt that my objectives, which were almost exclusively fee driven, became more and more like a mirage.
… [A]nd so what me kept me going?
Or as I said to my wife on numerous (stuck like a broken record) occasions – the MONEY.
I described it as the golden handcuffs syndrome. I was too far in to get out, but even if I had decided to jump it would have felt like I was doing so blindfolded and without a parachute.
My saviour ultimately came from left field: social media. But that is for another day.
I set out in yesterday’s post my vision underpinning my mantra of Excellence in Legal Practice. But in a sense it goes much further than that.
I want to see people fall in love (again) with the practice of law.
One thing that I am certain of is that those people who qualified and have spent some time in and around the profession still have a deep, passionate reason for staying attached in one guise or another. But it is just that the bureaucracy, political shenanigans, funding, client demands, billing or style of management/lack of leadership leads to a sense of alienation, demotivation and disconnect from the job?
To love is to live. There is nothing else; and if you think this is completely OTT, give some thought to the things that you care about most and accept that your mindset is manifestly different.
I love my wife.
I love my children.
I love my life in Devon.
I love the sport of cycling (7 bikes and counting).
And doing what needs to be done just happens. You don’t procrastinate winter, spring, summer, autumn and beyond.
That is not to say you don’t have to work very, very hard on things and you need to be resolute in your convictions.
In doing my job I wouldn’t expect to have exactly the same feelings as when I got married etc but I would expect to turn up present and correct. I would want to bring 100% of my gifts to work.
The trick is to consider how you can create that level of emotional connection with a job that may have or is beginning to wear you down beyond the point of no return.
A place to start is to get a piece of plain paper and draw a line down the middle and divide the left-hand-side into plus (+) and on the right-hand-side mark it with a minus (-). This is not a SWAT analysis. This is your emotional graph to weigh in the balance what it is you love about your job and what you hate. This exercise whilst basic might reveal some surprising results. What you may find is that you have nothing to include in the + column. Not a single thing.
Clients ~ “I certainly don’t love them.”
Billing ~ “Are you having a laugh?”
I think you get the picture.
You may of course create a imaginery picture right down the middle which says “So So”. Don’t be tempted to opt for that which gives you a middle-of-the road, compromise picture.
What you need to envision is what a practice of yours or the firm’s would have to look like for you to fall in love with the work or a aspect of it. What would the clients have to look like for you to fall in love with them? Clients that pay? Innovative clients? Clients that are more likely to appreciate your help, even if you might find them frustrating from time to time?
I am challenging you to go back to basics and take yourself away from the front line to understand why you continue to put up with a second rate career.
As I have mentioned the trick is to design a practice where you work on the development of all the areas that will make you love what would you do. Whilst you continue to work in the practice, as a technician, you will stay stuck. No amount of dreaming is going to change the nature of the job and if anything you are going to be even more frustrated if you stay living in your head.
If this doesn’t work go find your original law essays. Read them and realise how far you have come. But more than that you need to reach inside and reignite that flame of passion. You may have been one of those people who was inspired because of a TV programme. In my case it was, subliminally, Crown Court and Rumpole. Go have a dig around on YouTube and see what you can find.
On a final note, I found that when I wasn’t happy at work I brought that home. It was nearly impossible to turn off. When I think now what I put my family through, I wince. It needn’t be like that but you need to be much more introspective and challenge the stereotypes around you. There are plenty of ways to make money. Hard work is important but loving what you do is the way of joining the inside with the outside and it will reflect in your success. Clients will come back again and again because they know you care.