Overworked Lawyers: Delicate, Drunk Flowers

You know that mythical time in law practice, when billable hour goals were 1600 and you were expected to be part of the community? Turns out that such expectations reflected a much larger business norm, actually a deep belief, that working more than 40 hours a week led to decreased productivity over the long term. And this belief was borne out by data collected by businesses, not labor unions. Astounding, isn’t it?

Lawyer at desk with wine bottle

Leaving the lilac shirt aside, showing up at the office like this would likely get you escorted to rehab. Yet even minor sleep losses have the same effect, you drunk lawyer you.

I found all this and more out in a marvelous article on Salon, Bring Back the 40-hour Work Week, by Sara Robinson. I always thought that the 40-hour work week was forced on business by labor unions. Not entirely. Labor unions certainly agitated for it, but businesses actually supported a 40-hour week as well by the time the Fair Labor Standards Act passed.

In 1914, Henry Ford led the way, by doubling his workers’ wages and cutting them from a 47-hour week to a 40-hour week. It totally pissed off his competition that Ford’s productivity then leapfrogged over their car factories’ productivity. But they wised up and followed suit.

So what do the productivity limits of an 8-hour factory worker day have to do with lawyers? After all, it’s not like you’re on your feet all day or swinging a hammer, right? Continue reading

Chasing the Perfect Job, Ruining Your Alternative Legal Career Search

As I’ve written about several times (here, here, and here, for starters), perfectionism is an especially strong demon for most lawyers in their alternative legal career search. It’s one of the six attitudes that hold lawyers back in their search for a better career and life, and it’s got such a powerful hold over most lawyers that it gets its very own post.

Not following the perfect path, the pattern set by others, can lead to something fun and better.

The nub of perfectionism is worrying others will discover you are not enough, and gearing your actions and focus to eradicate that feeling of being less than perfect. The focus on the extrinsic—the partners will look down on me if I keep driving my dinged-up, paid-for Toyota, better get a BMW—keeps you from connecting with your authentic self. It’s all about external validation. Perfectionism walls you off from your own, fantastic inner wisdom, because it substitutes others’ judgments for yours. It keeps you conforming to others’ limitations, rather than exploring your own unique gifts.

Here’s a tip: No one is perfect. We all have flaws, some of them deep and juicy. Our flaws are what make us interesting and human. Lots of people think that if they were perfect, every single one of their problems would disappear. It’s more likely they would become insanely boring and horribly insufferable. And, they still wouldn’t be happy, because Continue reading

It’s Not Your Horrible Law Job. It’s You.

Unhappy lawyers often think that their problem is simply their horrible job. And I’ll be the first in line to say that the daily job of practicing law is nasty. Unpleasant, hostile people (and then there’s opposing counsel), unrelenting pressure of perfectionism, too damned much tedium and unbearable boredom, plus there are far, far too many hours expected.

Redheaded woman alcoholic

Attorney attitudes about money, certainty and lots of other stuff is as bad for them as constant boozing.

But there’s also another truth at work: Some of the horridness of your job stems from your own toxic attitudes. About money, about what work should and should not be, about what you need to feel OK about yourself, about what you should do in the face of obstacles and roadblocks.

Would you agree with an alcoholic who says that she just needs to move away from her toxic spouse, and everything will be fine? Likely not. Yes, breaking up that dysfunctional dynamic is very important, but it’s not the whole solution. Because we all know the arc of the story when the alcoholic doesn’t see her own choices as part of her problem: The wife will simply choose another toxic person to replace the spouse. That’s the choice that feels familiar, and even though dysfunctional, oddly comforting.

So which attitudes are your own personal landmines? I commonly see toxic attitudes in attorneys Continue reading

The Lack Blitzkrieg

After more than a decade of being a recovering lawyer, I have finally caught on to a few of my inner lizard, Guido’s, methods of operation. I’ve learned how to (mostly) ignore his various iterations of “you’re not enough:”

  • That’s a stupid idea (you’re not smart enough);
  • Someone else has written about this already (you’re not original enough);
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about (another version of you’re not smart enough);
  • You’re just whining, life isn’t as hard as you’re making it out to be (you’re not tough enough).
illustration of exploding cloud

Your inner lizard may be dropping doubt bombs all around, but keep the faith and it will work out.

At the very least, I now recognize Guido’s voice for what it is, even if it gets up my left nostril. But one M.O. that I’ve only gotten savvy to in the last few years is the Lack Blitzkrieg.

When Inner Lizards Attack

I’m quite sure I experienced the Lack Blitzkrieg many times before, but the first time I recognized it for what it was happened on my way to life coach training. For various insane reasons, I opted to drive the 500-odd miles. I literally almost turned around at least twice Continue reading

Guest Blog: Law Wasn’t For Me, And That’s OK

It is difficult to explain how and why I left my job as an attorney without first explaining how and why I became an attorney.

I have always excelled academically and had diverse interests including writing, literature, education, law, economics, and theater. After graduating from college with honors in economics, earning a graduate degree seemed like the logical next step.

Young attractive business woman on the highest bar of a 3d graphic

You can leave the law track. It will be OK. Really!

I had considered going to law school and becoming a lawyer from the time I was in high school. From an economic standpoint, a law degree had the greatest return on investment. I wavered back and forth throughout college as to whether I would really pursue a law degree. With the support from my family as well as several great mentors, I had every reason to believe that I would succeed.

As I searched for LSAT prep courses, I decided that if I signed up for the LSAT prep course, I was going to go to law school.

No matter what. Continue reading

Instrinsic Motivation for Lawyers: All in One Place

Lawyer misery is depriving us of a lot of talent and energy that would be much better used to improve the world instead. Many bright, creative people are lawyers, and their gifts are not used in a typical BigLaw or Lawyerland setting. We as a nation and a planet have a whole heaping pile of problems in desperate need of innovative, creative solutions, and some of the people who could contribute ideas and energy are locked in the airless, pessimistic environment of law.

Man walking on bridge toward lightMuch of what is wrong with law firms and lawyers generally is the maniacal focus on money as a motivator. As I’ve discussed at (much) greater length and am reposting in a one-stop-shopping format below, using money as the main motivator results in poorer performance and ethically shaky behavior.

So other than change law firm culture—a long-term project for sure—what can you do? It’s deceptively simple: Do what lights you up, as often as possible.

Dan Pink in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us gives a nice list of tools you can try that will help you achieve a flow/autonomy/mastery state. Try some of them.

I particularly love his idea for using “brain bomb” cards for getting mentally unstuck when you’re unmotivated, panicked, or otherwise not connecting with your best self. These cards, called Oblique cards, contain a single, often bizzarre question or statement to jar you out of a rut. Like, “Your mistake was a hidden intention,” or “Don’t avoid what is easy.”

The cards were designed in 1975 by famed produced Brian Eno and artist Peter Schmidt, specifically to overcome the pressure-packed moments that go with deadlines. Sounds perfect for lawyers.

If you’re reading this blog on posting day, join me at 1:30 pm ET to discuss all these lawyer motivation issues–and probably lots more–at the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club. Here’s the skinny on that:

Unhappy Lawyers Book Club, Drive edition Details

Date: September 15, 2011

Time: 1:30 pm—2:00 pm ET

Format: Conference call

Call-in info: (209) 647-1000. The access code is 535240# (yes you need to enter the # sign).

Cost: Free!

Now, on to the one-stop-shopping collection of my posts about Drive and what it means for lawyers. Continue reading

Laziness and the Leaving Law Job Search

The end of summer looms ever closer. And maybe also a deadline you’ve created to get the hell out of law by Labor Day, the end of summer, September, whatever.

So how is your alternative legal career job search going? Have you done lots of informational interviews, created a master resume with your legal experience recast in business lingo, diligently scoured the online legal ads? Networked like a mad thing, since summer is the perfect time to ask old friends out for a drink? Yeah, I thought not. And I’ll bet you think you’re lazy if you haven’t done all of that and more, right?

fat shirtless man in office

Lazy may look like the life of Riley, but it's a cover, especially when it comes to switching to an alternative legal career.

Here’s the really hard truth about laziness: It doesn’t exist. It’s a cover for scared. Shit scared to the point of paralysis, with a fat layer of “I’m OK, in fact I’m having fun!” deception slathered on top. It fools a lot of people.

The Laziness Myth, Explained

Clients often tell me that they’re lazy. I have to try very hard not to laugh hysterically when they say it. (Sometimes I’m even Continue reading

Unhappy Lawyers Book Club, Fall 2011: Drive

One thing that unhappy lawyers often tell me is that they don’t want to do anything that looks like a job; they just want enough money to not have to show up at work and deal with all the crap. That’s a huge sign of burnout, and of being in a job that doesn’t offer you what you need in any way, shape, or form.

Cover of Drive

What if carrots and sticks don't actually work well to motivate you? Find out in the Unhappy Lawyers Book Club on Sept. 15, 2011.

So of course the next question is: What job would give me what I need? Regulars here at Leaving Law know (and newcomers will soon learn!) there is no cut-and-dried answer to that question, much as you might wish there were.

But the reason why is the best reason of all. It’s that every one of you unhappy lawyers is a wonderful individual, with your own unique talents, skills and experiences. Each one of you has something unique that you find meaningful and important. That is the place where you will do your best work, and your happiest, most engaged work. The work that hardly feels like work at all.

Many lawyers, if not most, harbor the belief that the only thing motivating people to work are carrots and sticks. The carrot of big-ass, ridiculous salaries and bonuses, and the sticks of failure, fear, ridicule, shame and disbarment. Most lawyers, maybe even you, don’t really believe in intrinsic motivation. Probably because the last time you experienced it was in grade school, before the credential-accumulating, resume-building lifestyle began in earnest.

Yet according to Daniel Pink, author of Drive, intrinsic motivation is completely where it’s at not only for individuals, but even Continue reading

Recovering Lawyer, Singed by Lack of Sleep

So yeah, I preach a lot here about the basics of taking care of yourself, such as getting enough sleep. I mostly take my own advice on this one, and make getting sleep a higher priority than answering emails, doing dishes and such. But even though I’m now a recovering lawyer and not an unhappy, practicing lawyer, I still screw up on the basics occasionally.

Close view of bonfire

Ignore the basics, like sleep, and watch yourself make some hair-on-fire decisions, unhappy lawyers.

And screwing up the basics can land you in a really dangerous place, as I got reminded rather sharply in the end. Like yesterday.

I had 2 kids’ art classes to teach on Thursday morning, and so naturally I spent time Wednesday afternoon designing a flyer for the coaching business rather than preparing for the classes. (Yeah, ‘doh!) I knew better, but I chose the flyer anyway, because it was the first time I’d had enthusiasm for it in a while. This was sign #1 that I was setting myself up: Continue reading

You Can’t Buy the Career Ticket Before Knowing the Destination

Here’s what most of you unhappy lawyers do when you decide you want an alternative legal career: You try to buy your plane ticket and book your hotel for the destination. Problem is, you have no idea what your destination actually is. It’s not, as you might guess, a particularly effective legal career change strategy.

plane engine propeller from window

Choose your career destination, then worry about whether you're going to be in a middle seat.

Now y’all know I love to talk in metaphors, so I’ll unpack that one a bit for you. In a legal career change quest, the plane ticket equivalent is worrying about salary, whether you might still like a new career after 5 years, whether you can afford to go back to school, salary, whether it’s self-indulgent to walk away from the money in law, what will everyone think at the 10-year reunion, how can your children survive attending public schools, and did I mention salary?

You might have caught on that I’m thinking these are not the things Continue reading