I became a lawyer for a few reasons. The primary reason was because I have always had a desire to advocate for and help people. But, the other reason was the perceived notion that I would be able to maintain a better than average livelihood than my Bachelor of Arts degree could have provided. Despite these seemingly acceptable reason’s for becoming a lawyer, throughout my career, I was restless and to a large extent unfulfilled and unhappy. Miserable in fact.
There are many things that contributed to my unhappiness. Early on in my career I learned that I was struggling with addiction. What is rampant in our society and as a lawyer I was not immune, is our quest to do anything to feel better and to be fulfilled. More often than not, and whether this is a conscious choice or not, we as humans will quench our desire to feel better and fulfillment with whatever we can. Whether it is drugs, alcohol, food, sex, shopping etc., our society promotes these temporary and fleeting “solutions” in hope that they will help us achieve the intended result, happiness and fulfillment. I was no different. My “solution” was alcohol. Most of my socializing, inside and outside of the office was spent drinking. This started in my mid-teens, throughout university and progressed as I grew older. It was not uncommon to meet with clients for a wine or colleagues for beers on a regular basis. In 2010, I decided to stop drinking and have been sober since. The journey to understanding, managing and overcoming my addiction has been challenging to say the least. To be honest, the resources available to me professionally to try to overcome my addiction were essentially non-existent. My employer had no idea what to do with me and I was left to find my way through recovery on my own (at least from the perspective of what the legal profession could offer me). In addition to my struggles with alcohol, I have also experienced many challenges while practicing law, including challenges with running my own firm and having two marriages end in divorce. It’s been a long 15 years, but I am grateful for all of these experiences because I am finally happy and on the path to forever changing my life. While this article is not about addiction or the other challenges I have experienced, per se, I would be remiss if I did not provide you with the relevant context that brought me to this place where I “woke up” and feel it necessary to share my experience with you.
Today, I wear many hats. Not only am I a lawyer by trade, I’m a single mom to two children and most recently I have created an organization called the WAM Healing Centre. I speak to groups about resolving conflict. As a lawyer, I have focused the last 6 years almost exclusively in the area of family law and have my own firm known as WAM Family Law. WAM stands for “We All Matter”. I believe this basic concept has been lost by society in general. Prior to this, I worked in both national and regional law firms in focused on other areas of law including commercial real estate, banking and as a general practitioner.
This article is about what I see wrong with the legal profession and why I feel compelled to share my experience and what some may describe as an unconventional solution. Studies show that over half of practicing lawyers are unhappy and unfulfilled. Why is this the case? I believe that many people become lawyers for the exact reasons I described above. However, as you have likely experienced, the altruistic reason for why you perhaps became a lawyer quickly fades once the daily grind of the profession takes hold. I believe the main reason lawyers are unhappy is because of the incessant conflict we experience in our professional and personal lives.
I believe that there are five main types of conflict lawyer’s experience and each type of conflict has an impact on our lives, which makes finding fulfillment and happiness in our profession difficult and allusive. In short, the conflict we experience contributes to the unhappiness we in the legal profession experience. The five areas of conflict are as follows:
- General Conflict. The legal profession by its very nature is seen as adversarial. Client’s avoid lawyer’s at any cost. People are fearful of lawyers generally and will avoid signing an agreement or will otherwise cut corners to avoid having to engage our services. We must take responsibility of this perception and I believe that we can. Nonetheless, this adds to the conflict we experience.
- Client Conflict. I believe that most of the unhappiness we experience as lawyers centers around not being able to effectively resolve the conflict our client’s experience and in managing their expectations. Whether you are a litigator or have a solicitor’s practice, you no doubt face various levels of conflict that you are expected to fix. How many times have we heard that a good resolution is where neither party is happy with the end result? When our clients do not achieve their intended result, responsibility is deflected, finger’s are pointed and unhappiness ensues. In addition to not being able to resolve the conflict to the level of our our client’s expectations, we have to deal with our fees. None of our clients have a” save for my lawyer fund”. Lawyer’s are expensive and this adds to the conflict and stress our client’s experience when they hire us. Managing this is difficult and challenging.
- Opposing Counsel Conflict. In addition to managing our client’s expectations, we are constantly negotiating, mediating, arbitrating and litigating, which invariably involves interaction with opposing counsel. This is not without some element of conflict. Some of my greatest challenges as a lawyer, which induce stress and leads to conflict, both personally and professionally, is in dealing with opposing counsel. As lawyers, we all have different styles and different philosophies and instructions. These differences can have a negative impact on the file (no matter how unintended). When two lawyer’s opposite on a file are not aligned, a file can quickly go sideways.
- Career Conflict. We each have faced our own professional levels of conflict in our firm/business and in generally managing our own personal career. We are constantly trying to justify our existence by meeting billable targets, making partner, dealing with staff/superiors and our regulators. This adds to our level of stress and conflict.
- Personal Life Conflict. If you are unhappy in your career as a lawyer this invariably affects other areas of your life. These areas include, inter alia, our family life, health, free time and financial stability. Conflict affects our entire life. Whether you are conscious of this or not, if you take a moment to honestly reflect on your particular circumstance, I am certain you can point to areas of your life that have been negatively compromised due to your unhappiness in your profession as a lawyer.
So, how can you reduce the conflict in all areas of your life so that you can live a more purposeful, contented life and have a fulfilling career as a lawyer? How can you help your client achieve the same goal?
As the result of my experience thus far and in response to these questions, I have created a program to help alleviate the conflict you may be experiencing in your life and in the lives of your client’s. It’s called the Conscious Conflict Resolution Program (“CCR Program”). We all know that our profession has to change. We can try to add more resources and implement different models but the change that really needs to occur starts with our values and our approach, which starts at the individual level.
How Does the CCR Program Work?
The CCR Program is about incorporating various conventional and unconventional strategies to assist lawyer’s and client’s deal with and manage conflict. The goal is to change the way in which lawyers and legal practitioner’s approach providing legal services and assisting their clients so that you can experience happiness and fulfillment. The CCR Program works by incorporating reflective and mindful practices and principles, which will change your life and how you practice law, interact with your client’s and colleagues and strengthen your relationships on a personal level. It will also help your clients understand their conflict (i.e. litigation) and provide them with tools to help resolve their matter and more importantly, heal. This program is relevant no matter what area of law you practice. If you have experienced any of the above, are unhappy and want to approach the practice of law differently, the CCR Program will help you, your firm/staff and your client’s.
For more a more thorough presentation about how the CCR Program can help change things for the better in your life, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org . We want you to live the best, most fulfilled life possible.
While we offer one-on-one coaching, we also encourage you to enroll in our 3 day Live Event. Further, I focused this article on the Legal Profession, however, these same concepts/solutions are easily applied to all people, organizations and industries.
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