Time for a new series: Happiness is an inside job. 
by Darlene Tonelli, February 21, 2019.

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” (John Lennon)

In this blog, I’ve been looking at how to create happiness and fulfillment in a legal career from the beginning for lawyers – and why that matters. I looked at how improvements in a lawyer’s mental, emotional, or spiritual state can improve results for both clients and lawyers.

In this third part of the series, I’m going to apply the steps I encouraged lawyers to take in their own careers to the law firm business model.

Currently, happiness within the legal profession is promoted primarily using economic motivators and ego-based tools like titles, status as a member of an elite group, etc. I think the power of these tools is useful for motivating some lawyers, but not enough to mobilize the entire profession.

For a whole bunch of lawyers, I think things need to look a lot different in the law firm of the future.

When I created Inter Alia Law, I sometimes felt I was maybe not “understanding the assignment” (to reference the John Lennon quote) of creating a law firm. As I went along, I seemed to keep tripping over elements of the traditional model that just didn’t make sense to me. Topping up retainers to make sure I would be paid upfront for my time? Setting billable hour targets? Having expensive law firm management software that meant I needed to hire a clerk to run it? I started stripping out some of these elements, first for expediency, and, later, realizing they were going to help me get where I was trying to go. Eventually, I realized that what I was really focused on building was a good life for me and the other members of my team – and with that focus, I was going to learn everything I needed to know about building a law firm.

My view is that our business is a services-based business. If the humans don’t work, the business doesn’t either.

So, if we’re going to do all this talking about finding happiness and fulfillment on the individual level, the logical next step is to look at how the business model can foster it. My goal is to create a legal services business that can actually succeed in fostering happiness and fulfilment for lawyers. Otherwise, we might fall into the trap of unwittingly building new law firms that repeat the same patterns from the past. I’d like to avoid “have you met the new firm?… same as the old firm…”

As I’ve pointed out before, these aren’t just musings. We’re trying to build these theories into our business model at Inter Alia Law – so we are vested in getting them right.

To recap from the first series, these are the steps I suggested lawyers (as individuals) take once they realize they are not likely to find fulfillment at their current job:

  • Identify the story you’ve told yourself that keeps you stuck there (money, status, etc.).
  • Look honestly at the things you do outside work (addiction, shopping, etc.).
  • Find a way to stop doing those things – see how dulling the pain of your job is keeping you stuck.
  • Make a list of the things you enjoy and possible careers that are in line with what you want.
  • Write your new story, in which you enjoy your day to day existence.
  • Decide it’s possible to achieve it. Then move towards it.
  • Make sure you’re moving towards something great, not away from something bad.
  • Make sure your choices in life are not based around approval from others. Unplug from that.

In this series we will apply a similar analysis to the law firm model, to see how we can help facilitate a law firm business model that fosters happiness and fulfillment in its lawyers’ lives. I hope you follow along, and if you want to be part of the conversation, don’t hesitate to reach out.

We welcome your input at any time.

Find us on Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram or listen to us talk more about these ideas on the Lawyer Life Podcast (LLP).

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