by Darlene Tonelli, September 17, 2018.
When I started this series on finding freedom and happiness in law, I wanted to explore some of the reasons why so many lawyers feel so stuck in their jobs. We work hard in law school. We work hard to pass the Bar. We continue to ramp up – through articling and into our years as young lawyers. And then that day comes for so many of us, where we’re sitting at our desk in a meeting and we can just feel the weight of where we are – and it doesn’t feel good.
This blog series has looked at what to do about that sinking feeling and how to make things better. I made changes in my work life and I believe we can all do it. We are educated professionals and there are many doors open to us, as long as we have the strength and will to walk through them.
To recap, these are some of the steps to take once you realize you’re not likely to find fulfillment at your 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.
And here are the two caveats I added (complete with asterisks):
** 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.
It’s important to go through the process of self-evaluation, examine what you really want and then find a way to make it happen. We went to law school to feel fulfilled and excited by work, but we accept roles that grind us down and keep us there. It is fundamentally important at this time in history that we not feel ground down or just work for the sake of it, acquiring more stuff we don’t need. We have the power to help people, to make change, to feel fulfilled by real things. This is not flaky or secondary. This is one of the most important things we can do.
For me, this hasn’t been so much a process of jumping from misery to joy. It’s been more of a steady process of aligning my life, values and interests over time. I feel I have had extraordinary privilege in career opportunities so far in my life. I do not take these for granted, particularly in today’s tough job market. However, I made a very conscious choice to leave the first law firm I worked at to pursue a dream job in the music business. And when I left the music business, it was from a position of knowing what it really felt like to love my work. Having decided to move toward an even more fulfilling life, today I love my work but I’m setting up my life to ensure I don’t prioritize work to the exclusion of all else. (I would if I thought that was the only way to do great legal work, but I don’t.)
Enter Inter Alia. I created the type of law firm I wanted to work at, and for the first year, I was its only employee. When I realized it was possible to love and support my clients, work hours that felt right to me, and continue to grow and innovate without any of the restrictions of the traditional law firm structure, I felt driven to share that with other lawyers. This impetus is what led me to bring five more Inter Alia lawyers into the association over the years, and it’s what drives me to write this blog.
Every day I create the day I want to have. I rarely feel like I’m not doing what I should be doing. I don’t have a single client that I am annoyed to hear from. I am excited to pick up their calls and help them with whatever is happening in their business. I love my work, and I love making my clients’ lives easier. It’s a mission for me. I have taken all the things I loved about my two previous jobs and turned them into how I spend my days – surrounded by great people, interesting projects, and creators making amazing things. I believe strongly that this type of life is possible for any lawyer who wants it.
I enjoy helping the other Inter Alia lawyers feel this way almost more than I do for myself. When one of them starts working with a client they think is great, and I see them light up on how to really help the client solve a workflow issue or legal problem, or I see them allocating the hours in their day to do their work while supporting their spouse or being present for their kids, or pursuing interests outside work, I am thrilled.
Definitely not feeling stuck these days. I feel like we’re just getting started!
So where are we going next?
- Podcast – We promised to go deeper into these ideas in our podcast. And we have! Search for Lawyer Life Podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts. Along with my co-host, Mike Anderson, we go into more detail on each of the topics raised in the blog. We try to take a bit of a light-hearted look at the intersection of the personal and the professional. We hope you enjoy it.
- Webinar– If this blog has started your wheels turning about making a career transition – sign up for the newsletter to receive details on the webinar I am launching with Cat Moon, Director of Innovation Design in the Program in Law and Innovation at Vanderbilt University Law School. The first session is called Designing a Life (in Law) that you Love. Newsletter subscribers will have first access to the program as well.
- Join us. Come work with Inter Alia. Our modus operandi is to always use archaic Latin phrases in daily life. (Kidding). Our modus operandi is to provide the resources you need to match your legal career with your ideal life and clients. We support your entrepreneurial journey. Our target lawyer dreams of leaving their in-house role or Bay Street practice to run his or her own practice and be present and available for family, friends, community, life, travel, politics. An interest in innovating to deliver better results is mandatory. Good work and top-level client service are mandatory. Not much else is. Contact me – I’d love to hear from you.