A lawyer’s life

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.”
― Lao Tzu

It used to be easy.

Show up, do interesting work, get paid, go home, and, importantly, have a life.

Now?

It’s bloody hard.

No, it’s more than that — after all, you’re not doing manual work; it’s slowly killing your soul…one day at a time.

WOW. That’s a stark message, and it’s not one, I’m afraid, that many have taken to heart.

Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that all is lost or my message is universal but too few lawyers are willing to address their poor state of health, emotional or otherwise, for fear, perhaps, they’ll do something drastic like…erm…leave the profession.

In a sense, the profession only has itself to blame. Too much is expected whether that be in fees, profit or the incredible demands placed on everyone — fee earners and support staff alike. (I can’t comment authoritatively but from the few conversations I’ve had, it seems just as hellish for the small band of in-house counsel.)

In my time, I’ve done my bit to advocate a different modus operandi, one that connects with your soul but I fear I’ve missed the mark by more than a few nautical miles that or people have put their fingers in their ears.

Where next?

I’m not sure. I could stop commenting; I could shout even louder — I’m sure to suffer a few more slings and arrows; or I could refresh my message. Whatever I do, I’ll never stop believing in the DNA of law, the good that law can bring about and, most especially, that every person in or connected to the profession deserves more. More compassion, more kindness, more emotional connection.

To be clear, nothing that I say is for effect. I’m deadly serious when I say that the profession needs to reform itself or face extinction (in its current form). Sure, my message may not be everyone’s cup of tea but if I can ignite a spark, better still light a torch, then I’ll leave this earth contented that at least I tried. (I’m happy if my family put that on my gravestone.)

Lawyer coaching

“Men can starve from a lack of self-realization as much as they can from a lack of bread.”
― Richard Wright, Native Son

“Only you can take inner freedom away from yourself, or give it to yourself. Nobody else can.”
― Michael A. Singer, The Untethered Soul: The Journey Beyond Yourself

In the world of law, and as harsh as it may sound, there’s no appetite for workplace coaching. Less so, one on one (where the lawyer pays).

Ipso facto, lawyers don’t need coaching.

Erm…not quite so fast.

For a start, change is thick in the air and unrelenting. Likewise, the millennials are on the rise, and their expectations about ‘personal development’, whilst not stratospheric, are not likely to be met by the new CPD regime, no matter how well intentioned.

So what!

I mean, let’s face it, if you can handle difficult, sometimes obtuse clients, you can handle a bit of change. Actually, no.

I don’t want to split hairs but we’re not just talking about the external, we’re also talking about a work environment where the pace of change, organisationally or otherwise and the decreasing returns for increased effort, has and will continue to take its toll emotionally, spiritually and physically. (It’s not as if we haven’t known about this issue before now.)

I’m not suggesting that coaching is the only way to address the plethora of issues, but it seems odd (and that’s putting it mildly) that firms are happy to roll out the red carpet for pricing, IT and ‘change’ consultants but seem unable to grasp the people issue beyond, perhaps, buying a new system or practice to measure and or manage employee satisfaction, engagement and the like.

Don’t get me wrong. Anything that helps to inculcate a sense of place and acceptance of the real you has to be good thing but in my experience — having been coached and mentored by some brilliant people — I know how immediate and helpful it is to find a coach who can help with the issues that afflict law and every other business — e.g. conflict resolution, motivation and wellbeing.

Perhaps it’s the coaching fraternity that’s at fault. I mean, who wants to work with lawyers after all? Don’t answer that. But the truth is lawyers, law firm leaders and anyone else with their hand on the people/profit/purpose tiller has to recognise when they need help. As Einstein said, “Problems cannot be solved with the same mind set that created them”. If that’s accepted, at some stage (and not because I say so!), firms have to reach for the ‘HELP’ button and see if someone new to the picture can make a difference.

A word of warning. If you do go down the coaching route, please make sure you prepare a brief. You know, the sort of document where you make it clear what it is you want to achieve. In my experience, too often the ‘outputs’ are vague or imprecise, meaning that for any coach worth their salt, they can’t possibly warrant a result when the target is so imprecise. I know it’s tricky — that’s people for you — but there are plenty of survey materials and online platforms that can measure employee engagement, satisfaction and happiness (if that’s what you’re seeking).

Truth be told, you shouldn’t need any of these. Whilst the results shouldn’t be that stark where you feel you’ve developed a whole new workforce different to the people who went into the programme, by and large, without wishing for some happiness miracle, the majority of people who go through a programme, come out the other end more focused and energised not because they’ve bought into some hyped-up rhetoric but they’ve realised an insight which helps them understand where their thinking, emotion and sense of wellbeing comes from. If that’s understood, whilst it’s not the panacea for everything — we all have our ups and downs — nevertheless, it’s far more likely to embed new cultural norms that will: (a) help with the adjustment to change, (b) engender employee engagement and (c) give everyone who goes through the programme the resilience to cope when things go off the rails (as they always do).

You might read this post as a self-serving means to achieving more coaching work. It’s not. Honestly. All I’m trying to do, and have been doing for the last few years, is raise up the agenda how a modest investment in external coaching can support and assist all the work you’re already doing, and help build, from the inside out, a legal brand where your people are famed not only for their legal nous but their incredible people skills.

Of course, if you want to know more please feel free to contact me. I’m not saying that my brand is the only or the right one for you, but I’m more than happy to explain why I think coaching, at whatever level, is such an important investment right now.

There is only this

“Happiness is your nature. It is not wrong to desire it. What is wrong is seeking it outside when it is inside.”
― Ramana Maharshi

Everything is so ordinary, but we insist on making it complicated.

Even our thoughts have a habit of starting out small and becoming extraordinarily important.

Of course, this ‘Is-ness’ message is beyond the ken of most people.

But when there is no thinking, what else is there?

I know it’s easy to get drawn into an argument about the words used but, trust me, the deeper you go, the harder it gets to maintain the facade that ‘me’ is something different to everything else. Of course, the ‘me’ — that contraction of self-centred energy — doesn’t want to hear this message; it knows where it will lead, i.e. the end.

Crazy talk?

For sure. I mean who would wish for a miracle that’s so ordindary? Oh, the sweet-smelling paradox.

I don’t suspect any of this means a damn thing.

Try this for size (taken from the Heart Sutra):

“Listen Sariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.”

What does that mean to you?

In the end, as I’ve said many, many times, you’re either drawn in this direction and have this sensibility or you’re not. For my part, I’m not on a mission to do anything or get anything.

Being…is enough for me.