The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Gratitude and The Appreciation Deficit

“I am happy because I’m grateful. I choose to be grateful. That gratitude allows me to be happy.”

~ Will Arnett

The other day I received a private message from a lawyer who I have never met in person. She expressed her appreciation for my contributions to the profession in my retirement and did so in a manner that was warm and sincere. I practically blushed when I read it.  She made my day.

A short time earlier I had spoken to a mentee who is working hard to impress the partners in her firm and lamented to me that she never receives a compliment on her work.

These two events got me thinking that when I was a practicing lawyer, I suffered from an appreciation deficit.

I am sure that over forty years a good number of my clients expressed their appreciation for the work that I did, but I only recall a handful of instances where I was thanked so graciously that it really made me feel good about what I had achieved. That was hardly enough to have any long-term effect on my emotional well-being.

Since I did wonderful things for my firm, I can only imagine that some of my partners appreciated me. Really, I can only imagine it because it was rarely expressly stated.

I did have the occasional Associate, Law Clerk and Legal Assistant who thanked me for making time to mentor them, or for supervising them in a constructive and helpful manner.

I have some theories about all of this.

It could be that I was undeserving of praise, but I reject that hypothesis because I am truly wonderful. Both my mother and my (second) wife agree. (My first wife and some other family members, not so much.)

I expect that the clients who paid my ridiculous (but competitive) hourly rates felt that the timely payment of their invoices constituted more than enough appreciation.

As for my partners, perhaps they considered that any expression of appreciation might have been used against them in compensation discussions. Or maybe they were just too busy to think about it.

Also, as is the case in many firms, everyone was usually overworked and overstressed and did not have time to roam the halls being emotionally intelligent.

I would also suggest that too many members of the legal and business community think that there is something ‘unprofessional’ about expressing appreciation for others.    

Of course, you might want to ask me, “Murray, how about you? Did you express your appreciation to all of the folks who you dealt with?”  To which I would be inclined to reply, “Not nearly enough. At the time I did not understand how beneficial it would have been to both them and me to take a pause from chalking up billable hours to show my humanity.”

That lawyer who messaged me? She is building a firm based on some pretty solid values which include people being kind to each other.  Her firm should not be a unicorn in the legal profession, but I am betting that it will.

This article was originally published by Law360 Canada, part of LexisNexis Canada Inc.

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