How Money Saps Lawyers’ Creativity

I’m on a teeny, tiny little tear about materialism lately. If I were writing for the average factory worker, maybe this would be the wrong time to harp about the evils money can work in your life. But for law factory workers (aka, BigLaw), confronting materialism is important. If you don’t see it in your life, if will affect your choices and keep you stuck without your seeing why.

Lawyer caught in mousetrap

Creative lawyer, meet BigLaw money.

In other words, if you don’t see how the focus on the things shapes your attitudes, you will think that you can’t choose an alternative legal career that pays much less than the ridiculous salaries of BigLaw.

One of the ways we stay stuck is by clinging to the things we know—especially the ones that give us some modicum of pleasure. In initial coaching sessions, when I ask lawyers what gives them pleasure, they usually trot out lists of material goods and experiences that only money can buy. Rarely do I hear a client talk about the sun on his face, the smell of spring flowers, or time spent with a pet. I almost never hear clients talk about the pleasure of making something themselves, except possibly cooking.

We are all, regardless of Meyers-Briggs Type, current job or past training (or lack thereof), inherently creative beings. As I’ve talked about before, our culture and particularly our schools not only don’t know how to cultivate creativity, they actively crush it by about 5th grade. This is not that rant.

Cash Isn’t Creative

When you don’t have lots of cash laying around to buy a ready-made solution, you have to get creative to solve a problem. Continue reading

Why You Don’t Have Time To Find a New Legal Career, Pt. 2

Are you ready to strike out and regain some of your lost personal power? To find the career of your heart and soul? To ditch the soulless legal profession, or at least the soulless part of it you’re currently inhabiting?

clouds shaped like heart

Line up your power from your heart, not other people's heads. Photo courtesy stockvault.net.

You might be nodding your head. But then you look at your calendar and your brain freezes up. When are you going to have time to fit in a career search when you aren’t even getting enough sleep? You’ve got a brief due, a meeting to prepare for, Christmas is coming and you aren’t done shopping or cleaning or traveling–and on and on it goes. You don’t have the time! You feel powerless and not in control of your fate, let alone your career search.

Most of our education and life experiences teach us to bow down to others’ power. Whether it’s society’s rules, school rules, family or cultural expectations, or actual laws, we’re taught that being the cog in the wheel is necessary, indeed required for a successful life in modern post-industrial society. We’re talking rules like:

Why You Don’t Have Time To Find a New Legal Career, Part 1

It’s one of those hallowed excuses in American culture and especially among lawyers: I just don’t have time. Occasionally it’s even true. But not nearly as often as it’s used as an excuse for staying stuck in a legal career you loathe.

month calendar marked with "busy" every week day

How is all that busy working for you? Got that brilliant new alternative legal career lined up?

For example, I once had a client who was working at a BigLaw firm on a deal that was in the papers. Naturally (well really it’s insane, but not in BigLaw-think), he was working frequent 20-hour days. Yet in the midst of that madness and sleep deprivation, he managed to find the time to get some coaching, send in a resume and interview for a clerkship. Which, incidentally, is working out as a wonderful bridge job for him. So really, you do have the time.

What Are You Afraid Of?

The reason you think you don’t have the time is fairly simple: You’re not making your job search your priority.

Sometimes the truth sounds a little harsh, but truly I’m not saying that to judge. I know it’s not exactly easy to solve this little time conundrum. If it were, you would already have that alternative legal career and perfect life, right?

Rather than give you time management tips that likely won’t work, I’m going to talk about why you’re not making the job search a priority.

The number one reason 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 Happiness Lottery for Lawyers

You’ve got it clenched in your hand—that winning lottery ticket we all say we covet. So, now what? Do you think you will become instantly happy, you unhappy lawyer you?

business woman with fan of 100 dollar bills

A wad of Benjamins, the path to career happiness?

It’s possible. It could be that really and truly, the absolute only thing between you and happiness is cash flow.

So here’s a quiz, to test that theory a little bit: Make a list of how you would spend $50 million.

Don’t go all lawyer and worry about tax rates, investment rates of return, and all that. Just assume those things are taken care of, and that you have $50 million at your disposal. Where would it go? Write it down, quickly and furiously. I’ll wait.

So, what kinds of things turned up on your list? Cars, houses, big honking TVs, renovations, cool gadgets, clothes? Travel? Stuff for family and friends? Healing work, for body or soul? Tuition for college or grad school (for kids or for you)? Something philanthropic? What about seed money for a business idea? Living expenses so you can do what, instead?

It might be interesting to categorize your list (your categories may overlap):

  • What percentage is stuff, necessary or frivolous?
  • What percentage is to pay others to do loathsome tasks like clean the toilets or gutters?
  • What percentage is for other people?
  • What percentage is for learning of some sort?
  • What percentage is for security, financial or emotional?
  • What percentage is for making a big change in your life (not your standard of living)?
  • What percentage is for health, physical, mental or spiritual?
  • What percentage is for fun? Experiences? Relaxing?

And now the big questions: Do these percentages reflect the person you long to be? What do they say about your purpose in life? Are you happy with that message?

Maybe you don’t know who you long to be. If you don’t, all the lottery winnings in the world aren’t going to make you happy. Distracted? You betcha. Is your purpose to be distracted, to let fear (of unpleasantness, violating social norms, or whatever) grab the wheel and steer?

I’m not here to judge your choices. I’m just here to say that if you want fulfillment and happiness, a perceived lack of money isn’t what’s between you and a more satisfying life or career.

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who finds it a useful spiritual practice to buy a lottery ticket. She helps unhappy attorneys figure out how to make their life feel like they have already won the lottery. Schedule a discounted sample coaching session to find out what that’s like–email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com today!

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

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

How Lawyers and Everyone Else Blew 9/11

Ten years ago, when September 11 became September 11, I felt that deep, shared national longing to find meaning in the senseless and horrific acts of violence. And, like so many, it motivated me to find more meaning in my own life. I was living in the D.C. area then, and was so struck by how gently we treated each other in the aftermath, with kindness and compassion. For about 2 weeks, anyway.

sad shopper sitting in park

All that post-September 11 bling, and still the sadness deepens.

Our leaders may have felt that longing to find meaning, too, but they caved instead to their many fears. We weren’t called upon to reflect on what had brought people to such a level of hatred. We weren’t asked to find a way to give meaning to all those deaths by being courageous ambassadors of peace and beacons of hope to the world—you know, living out the American ideals of democracy, tolerance and freedom? No, we were called upon to . . . shop.

Yeah, that was an effective way to heal spiritual wounds and honor the dead—get all materialistic. Worked like a charm, didn’t it? Because now, as we approach the 10th anniversary of September 11, our country is a happy, peaceful, fulfilled place, and most of the world wants to be like us. (Insert irony emoticon here.)

Lawyers, Desperate To Numb Out

It amazes me how deeply embedded that response—pursuing solace through materialism—is embedded in our culture. After 10 years, it still hasn’t worked: We are a people in agony Continue reading

Bonuses = Toxic Law Firms, Pt. 3: This Is Your Brain on Bonuses

So as I wrote about here and here, Dan Pink shows in his book Drive that carrot-and-stick motivation doesn’t produce better quality work from lawyers and other conceptual thinkers. Yikes.

Egg with face being cracked on frying pan

If-then monetary rewards, like law firm mega-bonuses, create the brain of a drug addict. Just what you went to law school for, to hang with the addicts, right?

Even more horrifying, if you live and die by the quest for money as your sole reward for work, are the findings that the if-then money carrot can (and often does) create incentives for some really bad behavior. You don’t even have to look at research to know this is true, because corporate history is littered with examples:

  • Enron’s lofty revenue goals precipitated a race to meet them by any means available, so employees took numerous ethical and accounting shortcuts;
  • The financial sector’s collapse of 2008, caused by chasing short-term gains and ignoring long-term market weaknesses;
  • Ford’s maniacal focus to produce a car at a specific price point, by a specific time, at a specific weight, led to omitting crucial safety checks, and gave us the Ford Pinto.

If-then financial incentives, like those outsized bonuses, can also create addiction. Seriously. Continue reading

Are You Really Hungry, Unhappy Lawyer?

Attorneys, whether or not they want to leave law, get really caught up in what Martha Beck calls “lack attacks.” This is when your lizard brain, the ancient structure of our brains that broadcasts fear messages, really cranks up the volume about how you don’t have enough money. And that if you leave law, you’ll starve. For unhappy lawyers who start to get serious about leaving law, the lack attacks can become acute.

rice in red bowl

If you have more than rice in your pantry, you're doing pretty well by world standards.

The best way, maybe even the only sustainable way, to derail a lack attack is to focus on what you do have, and be very genuinely, consciously, grateful for it. I heard a powerful story the other day that helped me realize, yet again, that I have so incredibly much to be grateful for. I’ve heard versions of this before, but the recent telling of it really hit me. Maybe it will do the same for you.

The Banquet

There once was a church that was raising money to fight world hunger. They sold $50 tickets to 100 people for a dinner.

When the guests arrived, the tables were not the usual rounds of 10, but a variety of sizes. There was one table for 2, another couple tables for 4, a table for 25, and two gigantic tables for 33. Guests were told to pick whatever table they liked.

Once everyone was seated, the table for 2 was served a lobster Continue reading