- Your legal knowledge is only one part of who you are – your clients (and you) need your complete self.
As lawyers, we often think the substantive work we perform for clients is the most important part of our practice. In many ways, the substantive work is critical. After all, clients hire us for our legal knowledge.
What’s equally critical to our practice success is the culture within which we produce the substantive work. Systematic layoffs, restructuring, and other key changes have a way of eroding culture in law firms. When culture erodes, the well-being of each lawyer is compromised.
At my last legal job, the culture of our in-house legal department was so bad that after a while, I couldn’t seem to find the energy to get out of bed in the morning. I had a sense of apathy, combined with anxiety, about having to step into the toxicity and negative energy at work. In the end, I left the practice of securities law. I don’t’ want that for any other lawyer, necessarily.
Culture is the people, atmosphere, and responses we have together as employees. It’s how we see and do things, and how we perceive our reality and our future. In essence, culture is about the whole, not separation.
In order to sustain healthy and whole cultures in the legal workplace where quality substantive work thrives, each lawyer must bring their whole self to work each day. The trouble is that we have forgotten what our whole selves entail anymore. Some would argue, we never really knew our whole selves to start.
Over the years, I have had many lawyers attempt to argue the merits of their intense desire to only focus on their substantive work product, rather than focus on developing a well-rounded brand that authentically represents who they are. While I can empathize, the argument doesn’t work for two main reasons.
Clients don’t hire just a lawyer- Clients hire an advocate who identifies with their emotions, fears, and dreams. Clients most often assume you know your substantive knowledge. You passed a bar exam, you are licensed and you have been practicing for a period of time. However, are you willing to let clients see the other parts of you? These would be the parts of you that you don’t believe have any value to clients because they have no direct connection to their legal issue. These are the parts that prove to clients that you care and are worth your hourly rate and fees. These are the parts of you that clients can see for themselves, if you allow them. They may not have nor fully understand your legal knowledge, but they do know a caring, fun, present, emotionally connected person when they see them. Better yet, they know when they do NOT see this type of person as their lawyer.
It’s painful bifurcating yourself every day - Showing up every day and attempting to segment yourself is challenging and difficult. When I was practicing securities law, I remember often feeling like I had to hide my feminine side as well as my immigrant side. It just didn’t feel like these parts of me belonged at work. I also didn’t think anyone would appreciate or welcome these parts of me. The result was a slow and exhausting drain on my energy - pushing daily against who I really was in order to put forward at work only one part of me, the “lawyer.” This “act” didn’t make me the most optimal lawyer, nor did it leave me happy and satisfied. I was absolutely NO contribution to the culture in which I worked. Worse yet, this daily bifurcation leads to confusion over who we are, exposing us to mental health breakdowns, and harming our well-being. This last point has been noted by hundreds of my coaching clients over the years.
We are humans first and then lawyers. Being a lawyer is not our only role, though. We are spouses, daughters, sons, caretakers, soccer coaches, taxi drivers for our kids and the list goes on. Our best self has many places to hide, including being “a lawyer.”
Once we understand our whole self, we can move through our days with confidence, knowing that there is much more to us than just our careers as lawyers or any of our other roles. We give ourselves permission to shine our full light brightly into our communities and families and legal careers because we see the full value of what it means to bring our whole self to our world every day.
Our whole self comprises our physical body, energetic body, and mental body.
When our physical bodies are poor representatives for the potential we have inside of us, we struggle to feel confident and produce legal results easily and gracefully. Your physical body responds and behaves based on what kind of nourishment you take in. Consuming foods that energize your physical body is key, as is exercise and feeling positive emotions about the way your visual self shows up to represent the real you inside.
Your energetic body is tied directly to how much positive energy you have. A simple method for checking your energetic body throughout the day is to gauge what type of words you are using. If your words and thoughts are positive, then your energy will be positive. Your energetic body is incredibly important because people do not choose to engage with us or hire us, or even notice us, unless we energetically move them somehow closer to happiness. Said another way, no one buys your legal smarts at first. They only initially buy your ability to elevate their mood somehow. If you do not elevate their mood, they will move on to engage (and hire) someone else.
Your mental body is all about how you think and process your emotions. Emotions attach to thoughts. As such, staying self-aware of your thoughts will allow you to monitor what kinds of emotions (fear, anger, sadness, joy) you are allowing to attach to your thoughts. How well you can navigate this process is reliant on what kinds of beliefs and ideas you hold. These beliefs and ideas start in our childhood and oftentimes form the basis for our personality.
Anytime one of these bodies is more prominent than others in your life, then you are likely out of balance and not bringing your whole self to your life and practice. It’s as if you are forgetting about a part of yourself, leaving you feeling a sense of lack. You may not even consciously know this is happening. The results often show up as feeling out of control, mismanaging time and deadlines, confusion, anger and/or frustration at others, to name a few.
Learning to keep your physical, energetic and mental bodies in harmony will allow you to bring your whole self to your practice. You can serve your clients best and be part of your law firm culture in a positive way that increases workplace efficiency, effectiveness, and wellness.