September 01, 2015

RŌNIN REPORTS: Embark on a New Adventure

I am excited! With summer having passed, school is starting for students of all ages. Like the students all around us, we should take this opportunity to embark on a new adventure. Too many attorneys stay in their same routine, season in and season out, year after year, despite the obvious time markers all around us signaling changes. My colleagues, it’s time to wake up from your slumber. Let’s get to it!

The Most Obvious Change

The most obvious change that comes to mind for most of us is in our physical appearance and fitness. It was at this time a year ago when I decided to lose weight. I jump-started my new healthy lifestyle with a juicing diet, and then I ate well and drank homemade vegetable and fruit smoothies, while also giving up sodas. I lost 45 pounds. I am happy to report that, a year later, I have kept off 35 pounds (yes, I did gain ten pounds back).

I am prepared to jump-start another health kick, including again giving up sodas, drinking vegetable and fruit smoothies, and working out in the gym. Now, you don’t necessarily need to do all the things I’m prepared to do, but changing at least one thing about your physical lifestyle will help you. Once you are encouraged, you will be motivated to do more! Before too long, you will notice a change in the way you look and feel. Trust me, I am a cancer survivor and I know what it feels like to have an unhealthy body. A healthy body wins out every time, and I’m looking forward to losing another 35 to 45 pounds!

Changes in Your Legal Practice

Other than changes in our health, another change we often think about is in our legal career. Whether you are a sole practitioner, small firm attorney, government attorney, judge, or any legal professional, there are areas (big and small) in our work that are ripe for improvements and/or wholesale changes. Whether these changes are small and incremental (such as changing your office procedures) or big and powerful (such as changing your practice area or where you work), changes can reinvigorate your dedication to the profession and significantly enhance your legal career.

I recently saw a foreign commercial that promoted the idea of parents teaching their children how to fend for themselves in this world without being dependent on others. In the commercial, a mother teaches her daughter how to make money by cutting up pineapples, freezing them, and then selling them to the public in her local community and school. The daughter couldn’t have been more than ten years old, but she learned everything from using the raw material (whole pineapples) to creating a finished product (frozen pineapple slices on a stick) and then how to market and price her product based on what worked in her local community. The commercial was thought provoking because it showed that we all can learn something new and succeed from that new endeavor.

When is the last time you gave yourself an hour, much less a half-day, to reflect and think about what you could learn or apply that would make a difference to your personal satisfaction with your career? I’d venture to guess the vast majority of us only do so when required by outside forces, such as financial pressure, sickness or disease, or an employer’s dissatisfaction with our performance. Why wait to think about career satisfaction and potential changes until your mind is under a tremendous amount of pressure? Why not engage in that reflection and thinking when you are in a good place and not overly stressed? Although many of us can make good decisions while thinking on our feet, we all can make better decisions by giving ourselves time, focus, and energy to engage in self-evaluation. Think about it and then take action; you’ll be surprised how much better you will feel with the positive changes in your legal career.

Changes in your legal career don’t necessarily need to include wholesale changes to your work situation. What about attending more CLEs to become more knowledgeable in your area of practice or in a new area of practice you are mulling over? What about writing for personal satisfaction, whether it be a blog, magazine column (wink!), or book? What about volunteering more and either helping out with local clinics or taking on pro bono cases? These are just a few minor changes that can give you deep rewards in your personal satisfaction with your legal career.

Changing Habits

The end of summer marks a natural time to begin new actions and behavior that lead to better habits and ways of living. Maybe your legal career is where you want it to be, but you recognize that there are other aspects of your life you wish to change, such as exercise, healthy eating, better sleeping patterns, more religious devotion, new volunteer efforts, or being more grateful. Lest you be fooled, such changes are not usually accomplished simply by wanting the change and having a good day or two, but rather by sustained, consistent effort over a long period of time.

The old cliché that it takes 21 days to form a new habit is nice, but its simplicity lulls us into a false sense of security. Even if we are successful in creating a new habit owing to 21 days of consistent effort, habits are not simply gained, never to be lost. We easily can lose a habit by taking too much time off from the habit. You must have an intention to follow through consistently with your habit until it becomes part of your subconscious and no longer thought of as a new habit but rather as a way of life. In the words of investor and motivational speaker Warren Buffet (paraphrasing Samuel Johnson’s The Vision of Theodore), “chains of habit are too light to be felt until they are too heavy to be broken.” Habits, whether intentional, positive habits or lazy, negative habits, will wrap themselves around you, so you must be ever vigilant about your habits of thought and behavior.

Changing Your Career?

In the past few years, a number of books about lawyers leaving the profession have been published. An entire blog is dedicated to the unhappiness many lawyers feel (Jennifer Alvey’s Leaving the Law, leavinglaw.wordpress.com). It seems there is money to be made in the dissatisfaction lawyers feel with their chosen career.

Do you really need to change your career to become happy? Maybe some do, but the vast majority of us don’t need to walk away from the legal profession. Some of us just need coaching and training. Lawyers don’t like to admit that we need life, career, and business coaching and training just like everyone else. Clients come to us expecting us to have the answers, so we lull ourselves into the false security of thinking we have all the answers, not only for our clients but for ourselves in our own lives. Personal coaches are great at getting us to connect with ourselves and discover what we can do to make us happier with our career.

For those attorneys who truly are done with practicing law and would rather just do something else, their legal education and training have prepared them to ask the right questions and, one hopes, make good decisions in the future. A suggested resource is Monica Parker’s The Unhappy Lawyer: A Roadmap to Finding Meaningful Work Outside of the Law (Sphinx, 2008). In discussing her book with the Wall Street Journal (June 23, 2008) and talking about lawyers needing a guidance counselor of sorts, Parker stated that lawyers “feel like they should be able to figure it out on their own, but it’s almost impossible to figure it out on your own unless you’re determined to make a change.”

My Recent Major Change

To reveal a change I recently made that could give you an idea for your own career, in August I became a certified coach, trainer, and speaker with the John Maxwell Team. Not only does this still fit within my nature of helping others, but it’s not so different from practicing law that I can’t do both. I don’t see myself ever giving up the practice of law, but I’m looking forward to coaching other professionals, executives, and business owners as well as training and speaking on leadership. The break from pure law practice allows me to feel more excited about my law practice and forces me to become more focused about what type of law I want to practice.

I hope I have given you food for thought about possible changes you can make in your personal life, work situation, and possibly your career. As Heraclitus wrote, the only constant in life is change.