One of the most common pitfalls for professionals across the board is to fall into the trap of somehow trying to silo their work and their underlying values system. As much as people try, it’s impossible. Time and again you will bring your work home with you (for better or worse) and, vice versa, your personal life will impact on your work. There’s just no way of getting around it, which is why it’s so important that your true values and the things you consider to be non-negotiable line up in both places. For many lawyers, what they value and what they do day-to-day doesn’t match up well at all.
Legal practice can be extremely closed-off, secretive, competitive and process driven. For junior level professionals, there is the added deficit of autonomy and freedom that should come with high-level problem solving and other creative endeavours. Of course, at the junior levels, you might need to sacrifice autonomy/freedom to learn the skills that you need to grow, but inevitably the profession, even at the intermediate and senior levels, can fall short on this point. Career advancement and progression only go as far as the current law firm paradigm will allow.
Within a dated partnership structure and clear hierarchy, there is only so far that even the best and brightest can go. The pyramid structure of the old law firm models lends itself to this type of dissatisfaction. Too often, people are given work rather than generating it. They approach the client’s problem with a ready-made framework that the firm has developed over time, rather than bespoke and collaborative solutions. Frustration and disappointment are the two most common reactions to this reality, and there is only so long you can continue to be frustrated and disappointed before some action will be required to re-align things.
For many, it all boils down to the struggle between the false sense of satisfaction that comes with the status of being a lawyer, and the underlying values and happiness latent in all of us. So many lawyers find themselves on a path, in this case, a career in law or the decision to study law. These crucial decisions are often made with an enormous amount of expectation, and perhaps a sense of obligation. Expectations and obligations almost always lead to poor outcomes when it comes to decision making because only you have access to your internal compass that tells you what really makes you happy and fulfilled, versus what you are really doing out of a misplaced sense of obligation or out of pressure to conform.
Unfortunately, it’s usually a number of years into their careers when lawyers begin to realise this, typically after the initial rush of the new, shiny, status filled career wears off. Sometimes it can take an external event to bring you to this point, or it may be something you have discovered for yourself, but this realisation is actually a very important one. It’s the first step towards acknowledging and accepting the situation, but also, most importantly, it might be the impetus for doing something about it. Shiny, status filled goals will only sustain you for so long, and this trade-off between status and happiness is really a zero-sum game and a function of any social trap you might find yourself in.
The good news is that realigning yourself is totally doable, and once you have this shift in perspective you will be able to pursue what you really value without the baggage and old thinking patterns that are holding you back.
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