The Mentality and Attitudes of Lawyers

Desperately Seeking More (Billable Hours) – Abridged Version

One of the values that drove me for a good long time was the importance of working hard and generating many billable hours.

I have concluded that there are three reasons that many lawyers work long hours. Some do it to serve their clients well.  Others do it because they are workaholics. And finally, there are those who work all of the time because they are ambitious and they want to earn a lot of money. What all of these lawyers have in common is that they all believe that working hard will make them happy. It does not seem to work for many of them.

In my case, I never did it because I wanted to be rich or because I had to drive an expensive car or live in a ridiculously large house in the perfect neighbourhood. For me, the drivers were that I wanted to serve my clients well, it took me a long time to learn to discriminate between good and bad clients, and I felt nervous and insecure unless I kept on top of things. 

Eventually, my values evolved and I wanted to work less and play more. That put me on a collision course with the more ambitious folks.

It is the ambitious folks who intrigue me the most.  There is nothing inherently wrong with being ambitious.  Being ambitious simply means that you want to succeed.   Success is nice to achieve, and it is an unfortunate fact of life that in order to have success, it is often necessary to work hard.

Ironically, the ambitious lawyers who I met did not seem to be that happy. They appeared to always be in the process of obtaining everything that they needed to be happy, without actually ever getting there.

I knew a fellow who was the highest earner in a well-respected law firm, but he never earned ‘enough’ and neither the clients who he attracted, nor his law firm partners were up to the task of supporting his financial ambitions.  That made him very unhappy. His constant unhappiness with the willingness of his partners to play their part in helping him achieve the goals which he had set for himself resulted in him spending many hours trying to influence their behaviour and the behaviour of other firm members to be more like him and pile on more billable hours. 

Unfortunately, with this approach, there were bound to be winners and losers.  To the extent that this fellow was successful in setting a new direction for his firm, some people quit, some people’s career paths were redirected, and others retired earlier than they might otherwise have done.  Presumably, those who remained made more money and were therefore happier, although I am not really sure whether that is the case.

There is a moral to this story:  Know what your values are and hang out with people who share them. If you are joining a law firm, find out whether their partners share consistent values, and what they are.

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