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January 29, 2016 Practice Points

Stop Living in Misery: You Deserve Better

By Emily J. Kirk

In the article “Stop Living in Misery: You Deserve Better,” published on January 26, 2016, in Above the Law, author Jeena Cho ponders this question: Why are so many lawyers unhappy? Cho states that nobody decides to go to law school with the aspiration that they will hate their job. So why do so many lawyers end up there?

Cho says that she was once in what she dubs the “Miserable Lawyer camp.” She pulled all-nighters and worked 70 or more hours per week. She would get that “awful feeling in the pit of [her] stomach on Sunday nights and it would magically disappear during Friday happy hours.” (Sound familiar?) Cho says that she chose to live like this because she didn’t think there was an alternative. She legitimately thought that lawyers were supposed to be miserable. And if you weren’t miserable, you weren’t doing it right. But Cho points out that misery is not a natural part of being a lawyer—it’s a choice. And with a little effort, you can change your negative thinking.

Cho says that the first step in making any change is “awareness.” When working with lawyers, she likes to “explore the details, the specifics, the root of the unhappiness.” She says that lawyers often identify things like “lack of autonomy, not having an understanding of the bigger picture—how her work fits into the larger project, ‘emergencies’ that could’ve been prevented with proper planning, lack of feeling that her work matters, lack of teamwork, interpersonal conflict, and dealing with people who suffer from . . . ‘A**hole Syndrome.’”

To start this exploration yourself, Cho says you should create “quiet space” (which she acknowledges can be hard to find when you feel like you are drowning). But you need to be able to look at your situation from a calm and centered place. You need to create a space to “respond rather than react.”

Cho recommends creating this space through the “practice of mindfulness.” This can be done by just quietly sitting for a few minutes each day. With practice, Cho says she has learned that she can more easily identify the causes of her problems and she can notice her emotions without getting carried away by them.

For Cho, exploring the areas of work that caused her dissatisfaction ended up being a gift. She says she was better able to relate to her clients and produced better work product when she began to understand and master her emotional reactions.

Cho stresses that if you are miserable, it is up to you to do something about it. If you practice being miserable, it will become your default reaction. But if you practice bringing something better, then that is what will get stronger. Cho she approaches each situation with kindness, empathy, and compassion. She encourages her readers to reflect on what will work for them.

Keywords: solo and small firm, litigation, solo practice, advice, Susan Cartier Liebel

Emily J. Kirk is an associate at McCune Wright LLP in St. Louis, Missouri.

Copyright © 2016, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).