I recently read a commencement speech Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. It was a good speech among other good speeches he has made. One portion in particular struck a cord with me, here it is:
“When I was 17 I read a quote that went something like “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainlybe right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself, “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “no” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”
In addition to the humor he makes an excellent point: if you are not enjoying what you do it’s time to make a change. But change is hard, we are hard wired to stay the course and resist change. As attorneys we have invested a lot in preparing for a legal career and we have worked hard to have a successful law practice. But are you enjoying what you do every day?
It’s a old story: if you don’t know what you want to do when you graduate from college, go to law school. Many of us became lawyers just that way. The practice of law is a good fit for many law school graduates. But for more than a few the law is an uncomfortable fit. Smart people can do many things well but that does not mean that they enjoy doing them. Many young lawyers are disillusioned with the practice of law. Some of them tough it out, pay their dues and advance. For others the price is too much to pay and they leave the law often feeling like a failure.
I want to make two points. First, you are more that what you do for a living. You have a law degree, great, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear a “lawyer” tag for the rest of your life. You are a person first and a person who deserves to be happy. If you do work you don’t enjoy you will spend a major portion of your life without professional fulfillment and you will find it a struggle to put in the time and effort it takes to become successful. It is hard to be successful doing something you do not like. If you are unhappy practicing law, consider whether there are practice areas within the law that appeal to you. So many young litigators are not well suited to the litigator lifestyle. They would be much happier in another area. And if you want to leave the law altogether, do it. Don’t waste precious time. Many successful people have started their career as a lawyer and gone on to great accomplishments, you can too. Just do it!
The second point I want to make is that sometimes an adjustment is all that is needed to make a legal career satisfying. I worked with a litigation partner a few years ago. He was ready to throw in the towel, quit the law and open an antique shop. The reason was the stress and pressure of his practice. He would prepare for one trial, putting in long hours, and when that trial was over it was time to gear up for the next one. He never had enough time to decompress and spend time with his family. In our sessions it became apparent that he liked practicing law and didn’t want to quit, he was just burned out. We formulated a plan for him to approach the managing partner, explain the situation and let him know that he was ready to leave the firm unless changes were made. The firm did not want to loose an excellent litigator. An agreement was reached whereby my client would receive time off after every trial equal to the time he spent nights and weekends preparing for that trial. The client now has a law practice he enjoys and the work/life balance he needed. So, have you been answering the question “No” too many days in a row? Is there is an aspect of your practice that makes you not want to go to work? Perhaps the practice area, firm dynamics and politics, billable hours expectations, etc. It may be possible to make a change that will work for you. Give it some thought.
Professional Lawyer Coach, Coaching for Lawyers.com