The more you give, the more you receive. It’s cliché, right?
We learned it from our parents. We teach it to our own children. But do we actually practice that philosophy?
Well, you quickly (and perhaps defensively) respond: We’re already so busy. The practice of law is more demanding now. The competition for clients and the all-consuming billable hours are harder to withstand. Our children/siblings/parents seem to need more from us than ever before.
These are true statements, all. But I’d argue that we’re worse off for it, communally, professionally, physically, and emotionally.
WHEN FEWER GIVE, WE ALL LOSE
As a community, everybody loses when some of our brightest and most industrious members become so tethered to work that they have neither time nor energy to devote to communal activities.
At the 1989 Marquette University commencement, the great U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist shrewdly observed, “People who devote a tremendous amount of time to their jobs are, by definition, giving up time—time which might be spent doing other things.”
Back then, BigLaw starting salaries hovered around $70,000 in exchange for some 1,800 billable hours; since then, the hours demanded and monies paid have only skyrocketed.
Professionally, all work and no play makes Jack and Jill dull lawyers. The best lawyers I know have wide-ranging knowledge, and they bring a broad perspective to whatever projects they address.
Days spent tied to a desk doing one type of work over and over may make someone an expert, but it won’t turn out a well-rounded attorney. And it certainly won’t offer the kind of broad social network that allows for meeting new contacts that might one day become new clients with challenging legal problems to address.
BETTER YOUR HEALTH AND SKILLS
As for the physical and the emotional toll taken when work becomes all-consuming, numerous studies within the business and scientific communities have shown that giving back to the world is one of the most therapeutic things we can do for ourselves. The kind of good vibes produced by helping others has been shown to decrease blood pressure, depression, and stress while increasing everything from quality of sleep to happiness and self-esteem.
Even our genes benefit from doing good deeds. In a recent article from Forbes, eudemonic happiness—the kind of happiness our bodies experience when we feel that we’re acting with purpose rather than just acting on our own pleasure-seeking behavior—is linked to beneficial changes in gene expression.
Giving back also enhances your opportunity to develop and hone new technical and transferable skills. Maybe you’ll choose to volunteer to showcase skills you already have, such as a tax lawyer who spends a night a week taking calls at a tax hotline. Or maybe you’ll volunteer to learn how to do something new to help a cause you care about, such as building a home, setting up a web page, drafting press releases, or soliciting donations.
Either way, you’re growing your repertoire of useful, marketable skills. You derive a direct benefit from what you give.
THE NEED IS SO GREAT
Do you know who else benefits when we strive to give back to others? Those others! There’s always someone around who can use a helping hand. There are people who need legal assistance, tax advice, expungement help, and representation by an advocate in court or school hearings and in matters of employment and workers compensation incidents.
You don’t feel like helping out in a legal manner? No problem. Donate your time, your money, your artistic skills, your strategic-thinking capabilities, or your love. Take in a foster child, a foster pet, or an exchange student who might benefit from an insider’s view of this country. Help out at the local library, hospital, or community garden.
If you don’t want to be part of an institutional or formalized program, then tutor, read to kids, sing to seniors, bring meals to shut-ins, drive someone to a doctor’s appointment, or join in at your place of worship. Do anything you like to do; just do it with or for someone else. The need is staggering, and the possibilities are unlimited.
Whatever your motivation to begin doing more for others, don’t feel guilty if you find yourself becoming happier, healthier, wiser, and kinder in the process. Once you become engaged with the broader world, I predict you’ll find that you can’t just stop putting out the effort.
Luckily, there’s more than enough good karma to go around. Harness its power by reaching out and doing whatever you can to aid someone else. And at the same time, show your parents you finally recognize how smart their advice was all those years ago.