Good Fences Make Happier Lawyers

Boundaries. Most lawyers don’t have many, particularly when it comes to work. That’s the reason so many attorneys are just plain miserable—saying “No” is perceived as a career-limiting move. Yet without boundaries on your time—so you can have a personal life, time to rest, to renew, and to rejuvenate—you’re not going to have career satisfaction. Unless you count lawyering at the AA meeting or in group therapy as highly satisfying.

brick wall under construction

If your boundaries look like this, consider hiring the equivalent of a brick mason.

This isn’t a problem unique to lawyers, particularly in a corporate culture that worships dysfunction as “how business gets done.” Lawyers do make an art form of it, though. Client calls at 8pm on a Saturday? Responding Sunday morning is too late, and Monday is unconscionable. Doesn’t matter if you were going to celebrate your 10th anniversary or had a school play to attend or your dad just went to the hospital with chest pains. Doesn’t matter if you haven’t had a day off in weeks and really just need to sleep and do something, anything, but law. Somehow, the needs of the client, real or (usually) imagined, come first.

The erosion of boundaries between work and everything else has been happening for decades, but it took Blackberries, the Internet, and laptops to really put it on steroids. Oh, and Continue reading

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

What Elmo Can Teach Unhappy, Blocked Lawyers

My husband has many talents, and one of them is picking the most obscure crap imaginable to put on our Netflix queue. Usually this irritates me, because I’m just not that into World War I movies, John Wayne, or subtitled foreign films about Soviet occupations. But then he goes and finds stuff like Doc Martin, or last Friday night’s feature, Being Elmo. I was completely unprepared for how much we could all learn about alternative legal careers and risk-taking from the story of a puppeteer.

Kevin Clash with Elmo

Kevin Clash and Elmo may have been destined to meet, but neither of them knew that. They were just doing the work.

Kevin Clash, the man you never see while watching Elmo on Sesame Street, grew up in what was locally known as Chocolate Town near Baltimore. He was 9 when Sesame Street debuted in 1969. He was immediately transfixed.

When he was 10, he noticed the black furry lining of his dad’s raincoat and was seized by an irresistible impulse to use the lining to make a puppet. So he made his first puppet, a monkey with a Muppet-like face, and put it on his parents’ dresser.

After he’d finished the puppet, it hit Kevin that he might could get in some trouble for cutting up his dad’s coat. He was already hiding when he heard his dad call him downstairs. His dad looked at him, and simply said, “Next time, just ask, OK?” Remember, this was the 1970s, in a black family kind of scraping by.

I imagine today most parents would lecture their kids about valuing money, not destroying property, and all other kinds of things related to money and material goods. Kevin’s mom said her reaction was, “Oh, I’m not worried about that coat. Kevin’s going to be able to buy lots of coats for us.” Perceptive lady.

No Firm Plan

Fast-forward, and at 17 Kevin is working at a local TV station as a puppeteer on a popular kids’ show. He watches everything he can about Jim Henson and the Muppets, trying to pick up techniques for his own puppet-making. He sees a special about some of the large Muppets, and it features Kermit Love, who engineers many of those special Muppets.

Kevin really wants to meet Love, and to his utter amazement, his mom calls Love. On a senior trip to New York, Kevin goes to meet Kermit Love, who, as Kevin recalls, “looks like Santa Claus.” Love seems to take an instant liking to Kevin, showing him around the workshop, working on the construction of the puppets Kevin had brought. Not long after graduating high school, Kevin starts working for Love, and finds work in 2 series. Things are going well, but Kevin still longs to work directly with Jim Henson on Sesame Street.

I’m going to stop the summary there Continue reading

10 Ways To Tell You’re a Materialistic, Stuck Lawyer

fashionable shoes and purses

It's not about the money, it's about self-expression. It certainly isn't about the materialism keeping you stuck in law.

I know, none of you reading here have a problem with materialism. Other jackass lawyers you work with? Yeah, absolutely. They’re the ones who are brazenly only in it for the money. But you are different. You don’t like those people, and you don’t want to be like them, either. That’s why you’re looking for an alternative legal career.

And that’s why I know you would never saying anything like:

  1. My $250/month shoe habit is the only way I have to express my creative side. Besides, they were all half off!
  2. All my friends have the latest iPad, and they love it. I can’t get left out–we won’t have stuff to talk about if they’re playing games you can only get on the new one.
  3. I’ve gotta project that solid, successful image; after all, we all know clients judge you by the kind of car you drive. That’s why I have the BMW X6. I’d drive a RAV-4 if it weren’t for clients. Really.
  4. If I don’t go out to good restaurants—I mean the good ones, not the cheap $70 for dinner for 2 ones—I won’t have anything to talk about with the people in my Pilates class. After all, that’s all about the networking, so it’s important.
  5. We must have the money to buy our kids brand-new cars when they turn 16. All the kids at their private school get a new car then, and it would kill my kids to be the only ones who didn’t.
  6. My job is really hard, and I need to feel good so I have the energy to do it well. That’s why I have to get massages 3 times a week.
  7. Well, having decorations for every holiday, even Arbor Day, may be a little over the top. But I got everything at Target and IKEA, some of it on clearance!
  8. I really need that new set of golf clubs in time for the Clubbing It To Beat Cancer fundraiser. Our team has to beat those other law firm teams, and I know if I have those clubs, my handicap will drop 5.
  9. It’s not really excessive to spend $150 on a toddler’s Easter outfit. Besides, all the other moms do, and pictures are forever.
  10. It’s been a shitty week, and I need some retail therapy. Buying some nice makeup and jewelry makes me feel so much better! After all, if you don’t look good, you won’t feel good.

On the off chance you recognize yourself in some of these, here’s how to score it:

1–2:    No one’s perfect. Unless it was #5. Then see 5+.

3–4:    Consider a buying moratorium for a month. If that is too horrible to contemplate, see 5+.

5+:     Whoa Nellie! Houston, we have a problem. Did you know that increased materialism correlates directly to decreased happiness? Really.

 Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who has never, ever said anything remotely like what she wrote in this post. But if you don’t like your score and are feeling stuck in a legal career you hate, she can help you get unstuck and moving forward toward the career of your dreams. Discounted sample coaching sessions are a great way to see if coaching will get you going in the direction of your career dreams, instead of toward the online shopping cart. Email jalvey@jenniferalvey.com today to schedule your confidential session!