“If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up somewhere else.”Yogi Berra.
I was speaking to an unhappy lawyer the other day, which is typically the only type of lawyer that calls me.
This particular fellow has been practicing law quite a long time and makes decent money. His unhappiness stems from his insecurity, that so many of us share, about whether the clients will continue to come, and the fact that his work is too easy. He needs to develop his reputation so that he is in demand. He must also attract some more complicated stuff to sink his teeth into so that he is intellectually challenged and feels that he is doing something valuable for his clients.
My discussion with this lawyer got me thinking about what I liked about being a lawyer, which is something that I don’t write about very often, mainly because for most of my career the good things were overshadowed by the stress.
For me, a good day at the office looked something like this:
Morning: I had an interesting meeting with a client who faced a difficult problem. I brought along a bright Associate who could take notes and speak up if I were missing something. I would use my years of experience, knowledge of the law, and brilliant mind to develop a strategy to get the client from where they were to where they wanted to go, at the lowest cost and with the least possible risk. The client was so appreciative of my advice that they were delighted to pay my full hourly rate without question and volunteered a deposit even before I asked for it. Then I left the meeting and my Associate took responsibility for doing all of the work coming out of the meeting.
Lunch: I headed off to have lunch with an interesting client, potential client, or referral source. The food was excellent and the conversation stimulating. If I was really lucky, someone else picked up the tab.
Afternoon: Another interesting meeting. Again, an Associate took responsibility for the work coming out of the meeting.
Evening: Home. No work.
Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? The problem, of course, is that I only occasionally had days like that. On far too many days, I actually had to do the work myself or deal with administrative nonsense or office politics. And I only had those few perfect days in the latter part of my career, after I had developed a significant client base. And often just when I had the system working perfectly, my bright young Associate would become so busy with their own clients or clients who they had taken over from me, that they could no longer sit in meetings with me and do all of my work. Or they would just get fed up and get out of private practice. When those things happened, I had to take my own notes, do my own drafting, and start all over training someone new.
Everyone is different. I had one partner whose perfect day was being left alone to draft documents undisturbed by partners, associates, or clients. Another partner relished the days that she could spend bringing in business without having to do any of the work at all. A third lived for the days that he could spend in court. Another partner only seemed to enjoy the days that he could annoy me.
So back to my new friend, the unhappy lawyer. I don’t think that he has actually spent much time thinking about what his perfect day at the office would be like, because he is just too busy doing a large volume of easy stuff. Until he does that, he cannot even begin to figure out how to change his practice so that he can have more perfect days.
How about you? Do you know where you want to go? As Yogi Berra said, If you don’t, you will likely end up somewhere else.
If you are like most of the lawyers who I have met, you do in fact have a vague notion of where you would like to go in the profession, and as soon as you are less busy and the stress has dissipated, you are definitely, probably, most likely, going to get serious about figuring out how to get there. Maybe.
This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.