The Practice of Law

The Difference Between a Rut and A Grave

When asked about my complaints about the legal profession, I am forced to admit that back before I escaped the profession and became happy, I did in fact have some good days.  Three of them. (Okay, I am kidding about that last bit. There were more good days than that.)

The best days had: (i) a great client who appreciated what I was doing for them; (ii) an interesting meeting in which I helped a client develop a strategy to solve a problem; and (iii) a capable Associate.

The Associate would: (i) contribute to the discussion, making it better than I could have managed on my own; (ii) take notes so that I could look the client in the eye instead of having my head down, scribbling or typing; and (iii) take charge after the meeting to get the work going, allowing me to feel like I was not responsible for everything.

What else contributed to a good day?  Colleagues who knew their stuff who I could call into a meeting if I needed their expertise or with whom I could sit and brainstorm a problem. A law clerk who knew how to get things done and was not under so much stress that I felt bad just asking her to do things. A fun lunch with a client, referral source, or prospect, during which I could develop or deepen relationships and from which I could often come back to the office with a new file. An efficient assistant who kept me on track.

Those were the times that my firm functioned like a well-oiled machine, and it was a pleasure to be part of it. We did great work. The clients got excellent advice and service and were grateful to have us on their side. I felt useful, appreciated, and respected, both by my clients and my team.

Oh, one more thing. On those great days I had a manageable workload, left the office at a reasonable hour, and did not work in the evening.

Too few of my days were like that.

Instead, I spent many days, nights, and weekends trying to do too much and working with a team that was also overworked and overstressed. “It comes with the territory,” I told myself.

I saw too many Associates move on to what they hoped would be less stressful jobs, leaving me to start over again training and mentoring a new person, and in the meanwhile having to put in long hours to produce the work myself.

On the days which I do not remember fondly, I did work that I was capable of doing but which I did not enjoy, or I performed administrative tasks, or I allowed myself to get sucked into the political nonsense that thrives in partnerships. That is all on me. I could have and should have found a way to do more of what I liked and less of what I hated.  I had the skills. I had the client base. I was not obsessed with maximizing my income. But I stayed in the rut instead of finding my way out. What should I have done?  Embrace the power of saying “no” and if necessary, voted with my feet.

A grave is forever. You can get out of a rut.  If you are in one, think about it.

This article was originally published by The Lawyer’s Daily (, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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