Second Annual “Lawyers Appreciate…”

Last December, Stephanie West Allen (of Idealawg and Brains on Purpose(tm)) and I launched a 10-day campaign that we called “Lawyers Appreciate…”  We asked legal bloggers to make a post, sharing the things and people they most appreciate in the practice of law.  And we were delighted with the results, which you can find summarized here.  We discovered that lawyers appreciate clients, staff and colleagues, fair jurists, family, and so much more.  (To my delight, I rediscovered a comment on the kick-off post that celebrates, in part, peppermint ice cream, which is my favorite as well.  Cheers to Monica Bay of The Common Scold, whose identifying info was apparently stripped from that comment when I migrated to the new blog.)

A few weeks ago, I asked Stephanie what she thought about launching a second annual Lawyers Appreciate… And she responded with an enthusiastic thumbs up!

Last year’s campaign ran from December 22 to December 31, with some appreciation coming in even into the new year — which, it has to be said, Stephanie and I both appreciated.  There’s no statute of limitations on this!  Since the 22nd is a Saturday this year (and I will be making extra-merry, since the 22nd is also my birthday) I thought I’d announce a day early, so resourceful bloggers can begin reflecting.  And, of course, anyone without a blog is welcome to participate as well by posting a comment.

Here’s how it works: tomorrow, we’ll invite 3 bloggers to join us in our appreciative countdown.  We’re asking them to post a blog entry that begins with the words, “Lawyers Appreciate…” and then to invite 3 more bloggers of their choice to do the same.  We’ll keep this up for 10 days, until (at least) December 31.  And we’ll kick off 2008 with conscious appreciation for what might otherwise go overlooked.

Get ready…… Get set………………….

Edited to add: from Stephanie’s announcement:

For those of you who posted your “LA . . .” list last year, what additions (and maybe subtractions) will you make in 2007? And to those new to the “Lawyers Appreciate . . .” countdown, we look forward to reading your posts of appreciation.


Discovering “fit” between square pegs and round holes

I often request new clients complete the DISC assessment, both to give the client a sense of his or her natural tendencies and how much he or she feels the need to adapt to the current work environment and also to give me the background for communicating by using the client’s language.  As I outlined in a post earlier this fall, the DISC is also particularly valuable to clients who are seeking to enhance their business development skills, those who are experiencing some sort of personal conflict with a team member, and those who want to improve their relationships with clients, colleagues, and staff.  The profile requires an investment of just 15 minutes to complete the assessment and less than an hour for a thorough debriefing, and it pays off on that investment for years.

Interestingly, I’ve recently debriefed the DISC with a handful of clients who, after learning about their natural tendencies, feel that they’re unsuited for law firm life.  (And such a reaction is one reason why I always provide an oral debrief of the DISC, even though each client receives a detailed written report as soon as the assessment is completed.)  The reasons for these feelings varies; some feel they aren’t “dominant” enough, some feel that their preference for a slow and steady pace at work conflicts with the realities of practice, and some feel that they’re too “people oriented” to do well in a setting that requires a lot of solo reading, analyzing, and writing.  After discussion, though, each client has discovered a different interpretation.

You probably glanced at the photo I selected for this post.  Go back and look at it.  Really.

You’ll notice that the proverbial square peg has been altered to fit into the round hole — and that the alteration wasn’t easy, that it permanently changed the square peg, and that (by virtue of the hammer lying nearby) the process probably wasn’t all that easy.  But you’ll also notice that the square peg is still square above the hole.  And the percentage of peg above the hole appears to be more than that in or below the hole; in other words, although part of the peg was changed irreparably, most of it remains in its native state.

When I work with clients who feel like a square peg trying to fit into a round hole, this imagery comes to mind in two respects.  The first is: ok, you can make yourself fit by smoothing down some corners, shaving off bits and pieces, and adapting until you conform to the mold.  That’s what some clients choose.  And frankly, those clients usually choose not to work with me, because that process isn’t one that I wholeheartedly embrace and a client who’s decided to take that route usually requires the assistance of someone who agrees that the proper approach is to pound away at the “offending corners” until they’re gone.  Fair choice, but not mine.

The second approach is a quite different.  It calls for examining the discrepancy between the mold and the client, deciding whether it really exists or whether it exists only in the client’s perception, and then determining whether the client must change, whether the mold can stretch, or whether the client can change and the mold can stretch.  For instance, if a client is a nonconformist who enjoys marching to the beat of her own drummer — not always a popular path in law firms — we might examine whether her beat can coincide with her firm’s culture and goals (perhaps even putting her into some type of leadership role since her beat might inspire others to dance along) or whether she’d prefer to create her own rhythm elsewhere.

Few easy answers exist in this area.  However, I’ve found that lawyers who enjoy significant aspects of practicing law are generally able to find ways to adapt themselves and/or their circumstances so they can get more of what they enjoy and lead from their strengths, even when those strengths may not be the first that come to mind when envisioning law firm culture.

If you feel like a square peg, ask yourself questions along these lines:

*  What are the areas of disconnect?
*  What value is in those areas?
*  Do I want to create change, in myself or in my environment?
*  What can I do to develop a fit?  What support do I need?
*  How can I use my strengths in a way that serves me and my environment?

Sometimes the answer is to leave the “round hole culture.”  And sometimes the answer is that the gap isn’t as broad as it may appear to be, that relatively small adaptations create a more multifaceted and thus stronger set of skills, and that the fit may be imperfect but nonetheless good.  That’s the secret that happy lawyers often discover.

“I hate being a lawyer”

When I review the searches that lead people to this blog, I all too frequently find some version of, “I hate being a lawyer.”  Often I shrug and move on without much thought, but seeing the search last weekend took me down a different line of thought.

Is this really true for the searcher?

Maybe it is.  If so, I empathize.  Although I’ve never hated practicing law, I’ve (briefly) had jobs I hated and sometimes had to do tasks I hated even in jobs I loved.  It’s painful to hate something that consumes the bulk of one’s conscious hours, and change is in order — pronto.

More likely, though, it’s not entirely true, though there’s some part of the statement that is true.  So, the key is to determine which of two aspects (and perhaps more) is untrue.  (And for here on out, I’m addressing the “you” who agree with the search statement.)

1.  “I hate being a lawyer.  What does it mean to you to “be a lawyer?”  How do you interpret that identity, and what do you dislike about it?  Is there a way to reshape “being a lawyer” so that it’s more acceptable?  Is it different to “be someone who practices law” than to “be a lawyer”?  This is a rich area for exploration.

2.  “I hate practicing law.”  This is what I suspect the search is really all about.  But again, is this entirely true?  Is there some part of practice you enjoy?  Maybe you really like research and writing but hate dealing with clients — or vice versa.  Maybe you enjoy the puzzle of tax law but not the clients you represent.  Maybe you want to be on your feet and out of the office more than anything.  Finding the parts of practice that you do like is the key step toward a situation that’s a good fit for you.  This is another area rich for investigation.

Although happy lawyers explain the source of their happiness in many different ways, the common denominator seems to be that they connect what they enjoy to what they do on a regular basis in practice.  I don’t imagine that any lawyer or any person likes every single professional task undertaken, but there’s a tipping point, and those who stay above that point tend to self-identify as happy.  I’ve also observed that happy lawyers connect with a sense of fulfillment or a belief that what they’re doing matters.

The bottom line, of course, is that making the statement “I hate being a lawyer” calls for some kind of action.  Maybe the action is a job/career change, or maybe it’s analysis to identify what changes would negate that statement (partly or completely) and making those changes.

So, searcher, you “hate being a lawyer.”  What will you choose to do about it?


Success tips for lawyers (and some poetry, too)

Today I ran across a Law Practice Today article titled How to Be More User-Friendly, by Wendy L. Werner.  The article lists reminders of what lawyers need to do, be, or think about “to not just be tolerated by the rest of the world, but to flourish.”  Here’s the list, and I strongly encourage you to read the full article for amplification.  Though I’m not crazy about the tone of the article (which comes across to me almost as a primer on “how lawyers can learn to masquerade as humans”), the advice is well-taken.

*  Talk less, listen more.
*  Sharing information with those around you is not a bad thing.
*  Know what your colleagues are working on.
*  Being rigorous doesn’t mean being a jerk.
*  Risk is sometimes necessary to find new opportunities.
*  If you only spend time with lawyers, you won’t know how to talk to juries or clients.
*  Lawyers are frequently smart people — but lots of other people are smart too.
*  Diversity is a fact of life.  If you want a successful and smart organization, hire and promote a diverse work force.
*  Seek opportunities for feedback.
*  No matter what your level in the organization, find a mentor, coach or advisor.
*  Having fun at work isn’t a crime.
*  At the end of your life you probably won’t say — “I wish I had spent more time at the office.”



The Secret Society of Happy Lawyers

In the discussions that led up to the Lawyers Appreciate…  countdown, Stephanie West Allen mentioned the Secret Society of Happy People to me.  The name captured me – raptured me! — and it kept floating back to the surface as we were choosing the name for the countdown.

Stephanie recently requested authorization from Pamela Gail Johnson, the creator of the Secret Society of Happy People, to establish a Secret Society of Happy Lawyers, and permission was gladly granted.  Visit Stephanie’s Idealawg post for further details.

Now, before we introduce The Secret Society of Happy Lawyers, Stephanie and I are curious: what does that name conjure for you?  Does it bring up images, tales, jokes, dreams?  Please share!  Post your comments here, on Stephanie’s blog, or email Stephanie or me.  Or post something on your own blog, and I’ll add a link here.  We’re eager to hear your thoughts and ideas about the new Secret Society of Happy Lawyers.  And stay tuned: there’s lots to share!