I feel a deep dissatisfaction with:
- the practice of law (perhaps Australia’s most regulated, bureaucratic and micro-managed profession, in my humble opinion),
- how lawyers are perceived by the community at large
(a memorable ‘compliment’ I once received from a well-meaning and much relieved client at the end of a meeting was that seeing me actually wasn’t actually quite as bad as going to the dentist. That was a real confidence boost – not!!), and with
- the tone and intent of the interactions I had with other lawyers.
I had become fond of saying that the thing I hated the most about being a lawyer was working so closely with so many other lawyers. And yet I was only too aware that other lawyers probably had the same feeling about me.
I will never forget the barrage of insult and accusation I received in a letter from a ‘colleague’ because I had written to him that I would provide a “more fulsome” reply to the issues raised by his client once I had taken my clients instructions – seriously! After I recovered from the shock, I looked “fulsome” up in the dictionary and discovered that not only does it mean “of large size or quantity, copious or abundant” but also “offensive to good taste, especially as being excessive, gross or insincere”. So I guess, technically, he had reason to be offended.
But what about that old legal presumption of ‘innocent until proven guilty”? Surely my intended meaning was not so obscure that he had no choice but to assume I meant to offend him? Needless to say, the negotiations between each of our clients lurched from miscommunication to crisis, and eventually broke down.
So, I am deeply dissatisfied. But what can I DO about my dissatisfaction?
For many a long day and night, I have considered leaving the profession for good (sometimes flippantly, and sometime with serious intent).
As I battle to improve my mental health and wage active war on my dissatisfaction, I now hum (something like a tuning fork) when the issue of lawyer’s well-being is raised. I think this issue is raised much more often now than ever before, but who could say whether this is fact, or simply my now being attuned (like that fork) to the issue. Irrespective, I began to feel that dissatisfied lawyers far outnumber those who practice happily. How gloomy!
Swimming in such thoughts, I attended J Kim Wright’s presentation called “Conscious Contracts”. I have described her presentation and my resulting epiphany, more ‘fulsomely’ ;-) in the post (Could Conscious Contracts be the answer…?).
I have subsequently begun to read her book “Lawyers as Peacemakers: Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law”. In the first few chapters she states that it is “…no secret that addiction, suicide, depression and cynicism are rampant among lawyers”. Yep; it’s sad but very true.
David N Shearon, JD, MAPP, Executive Director of the Tennessee Commission on Continuing Legal Education and Specialisation, and of the Tennessee Lawyer’s Fund for Client Protection has contributed a forward to the book, and in it he says “Law is an extraordinarily demanding area of human endeavour. Lawyers are called upon to deal regularly with aspects of our life together in society that most individuals only rarely encounter”. He lists these as including:
- Zero-sum conflicts – where gains by one party can only come at the expense of the other.
- Necessary evils – where we exert our effort or skill to create physical or psychological pain or distress for another, for a greater good.
- Adversarial communication – as opposed to that emphasizing enquiry.
Both Mr Shearon and Ms Wright advocate positive psychology.
Mr Shearon challenges the popular belief that emotions and moods are a result of our circumstances, and so can only be changed by a change in circumstances (such as your job, house, partner etc.). He says research shows that “not only are positive emotions necessary to the broad, creative, collaborative thinking necessary to change our circumstances, but also that such positive emotions can be generated by relatively simple practices that are… enjoyable to do.” His “Paths to Positivity” is included as an appendix to Ms Wright’s book, and lists ways to increase your positivity.
There are only 5 things on his list, and I agree that they really are simple practices. The first two are to get adequate sleep, and to get regular, moderate exercise. As the mother of a toddler, I rarely get either, but maybe I should try to do so, before I give up on my legal career?
The other three are about generating positive thoughts, and are:
- Write each evening about 3 good things from the day.
- Select one of your strengths, plan a new way to use it, then implement your plan.
- Challenge your pessimistic thoughts about the cause of any adversity you face (whether big or small, personal or professional). Do you think that what caused the adversity is permanent (so it will affect future events), pervasive (so it will affect all parts of your life) and unchangeable (so you are helpless)? If so, actively look for evidence of temporary, specific and changeable causes, which are the cornerstone of optimistic thinking (for example, a bad outcome was due to the specific weaknesses in that particular case). This framing makes an adverse event easier to bounce back from.
Could it be that if I actively generate positivity, so as to fuel my motivation to run Mercury Legal based on my values, I could be a happy lawyer? Have I got anything to lose if I try?