Friday, August 08, 2014

Are lawyers only happy when they're miserable?

That's the discussion over at Above the Law.  From the intro to Bruce Stachenfeld's post:

What I mean is this: You are working round-the-clock so much you haven’t even been home for a full day and hardly at all for a month on a doozie of a deal. You are completely sick of it. All you can think of is when the deal will be “over.” You are clearly “miserable.” If only you could have your personal life back! Then, finally, the deal closes — at last. Your client is wiring out the funds. As the transfer of funds is happening, a (terrible) thought races through your mind. You hate yourself for the thought — you try not to have the thought — but you simply can’t help it… and the thought is that you are kind of worried because you have nothing to do now and that is disquieting… gee, what if work has really slowed… at some point this will be a real problem. You’ve had your personal life back for maybe a second — you haven’t even taken a shower — and you are worrying where your next deal will come from.
Or the other way around. Work has been slow — very slow — for a couple of months. You have enjoyed some rounds of golf and gone out to a bunch of dinners and lunches, but you really would like a nice tricky and challenging deal to sink your teeth into. And of course you are mindful of the fact that like it or not lawyers just have to bill hours. That is how we make a living, and you just aren’t billing hours. Not a good thing. You are edgy — if only you could have a big deal to work on….

The final lament is that work is so damned inconsistent. One day you have nothing to do, and the next day you are swamped. There is no consistency, and therefore it is hard to make plans — it is hard to commit to pilates or pottery class or even going to the gym regularly or anything that requires regular attendance. If only you could have a regular life; however, you know full well that the cutting-edge stuff, the cool stuff, doesn’t fit into regular scheduling. We must always respond to someone’s emergency as that is what a service business is. How often has a client uttered the following three words: “take your time”?
So what should we do about this? Can anything be done about it, or are we lawyers going to have the ultimately pathetic lives, only “happy” when we are “miserably” overworked?
Dang it — I am not going through life that way — no way. And I urge the rest of the lawyers at my firm — and anyone else reading this — to avoid this terrible fate.
But avoiding this negative energy spiral is no easy feat. The fact remains that we are in a service business and we either do an awesome job for our clients — on their unpredictable time frames — or we lose our clients to other law firms that will make the necessary sacrifices. Just saying “no” to the clients or colleagues who make the time demands won’t work. And neither will being miserable and stressed out. Here is another plan.
Do you want a nine-to-five kind of boring job with unchallenging work? Most of us don’t want that. This is one of the reasons we became lawyers in the first place — because the work is incredibly interesting and challenging.
Conversely, do you want a life where you work round the clock, albeit on interesting and challenging matters, so hard that even your health starts to go? I would think you don’t want that either. At some point the work just isn’t fun any more and your job just stinks.
So how about you just flip your brain around. Instead of looking at the negatives, start looking at the positives of each work phase? This is the trick.


Rumpole said...

Rumpole says,

try a case and get a life. Prepare a cross, then execute it flawlessly and watch the government's case crumble.
These are satisfying and tangible results from the practice of law and so few lawyers do it- and do it well- that it makes us believe that there is a correlation between the lawyer's unhappiness and their inability to do anything other than move paper and get wire transfers for fees.

In Jim Cramer's masterful autobiography "Confessions of a Street Addict" he writes about being a second year law student out of Harvahrd sitting in a room at a big NYC firm on an M&A assignment watching associates typo-check a document - a job that could have been accomplished with a high school degree, and feeing such fear about spending a career doing that.

My point is, our profession has its good points and bad points. Sort of like the difference between spending the day doing colonoscopies and heart bypasses.

Bob Becerra said...

Agreed. Get a life. And nothing better than crumbling the government's case.

Anonymous said...

I think that using a flat fee model helps a lot, if you're area of law will permit it.

david said...

My experience is that humans are addicted to suffering..its not unique to lawyers..what i get to do is give up the notion that i can control life, understand that i am part of something much larger than myself and live in daily acceptance and appears the rest just falls in place.

Anonymous said...

The guy is actually taking credit for making up that "saying"? What a douche.