As 2015 winds down, and I finalize my 2016 resolutions, I thought I’d end this year on a happy note. I am excited about 2016 and the adventures it will bring, but what I’m most excited about is that the new year is a clean slate. It’s a chance to start over. I generally write about legal tech, but this time, I’ll focus on something a little more personal… being a happy lawyer. Sadly, the statement itself sounds like an oxymoron. A “happy lawyer?” Is there such a thing?
Well, this year, I hope to start the trend. I met quite a few lawyers who are ambitious, excited, and love what they’re doing. Unfortunately, many more are the complete opposite. I propose we collectively change that in the new year. Here’s my proposal to all lawyers who want to make 2016 a “Happy Lawyer Year:”
I. Stop comparing yourself to others – The one thing I learned this year is that no one knows everything. Some lawyers are experts in one field , and others (like myself), are generalists. I know a little about many areas of law, and I am finally coming to terms with that. I have a whole team of outside attorneys backing me up when I need it, and I am finally ok with that. I stopped caring that I didn’t know as much as the IP experts I spoke with, or customs counsel who know the field inside and out.
I realized that I will never be an expert in one particular area of law and I am happy with it. I like the fact that every day is a challenge and a new learning opportunity. So, I propose that we all stop comparing ourselves to other lawyers, worrying about knowing it all, and finally being content with the reality that we are good, and that we are good enough. The sooner we all realize it, the happier we’ll become.
Here’s some tips on how to stop comparing yourself: How I Learned to Stop Comparing Myself to Others, and Love My Own Ideas
II. Stop practicing law – Wait what? How can we be “happy lawyers” if we’re not practicing law? Well, no one will ever take your law degree or law license away from you (unless you allow for it to happen of course). You can keep both and use them if you want to. What I am suggesting is that if you’re not happy practicing law, then stop. If you don’t like something, stop complaining about it, and do something else.
I hated being a solo practitioner in Chicago, so I quit and went in-house. I hated seeing myself and other lawyers managing admin tasks and using outdated technology when every other field was booming with new technology and increasing efficiency, so I started partnering up with legal technologists to try and make a difference in the legal field. So.. if you hate practicing law.. then quit and do something else. It’s scary. It’s terrifying. You’ll ask yourself a million questions and talk yourself out of it 100 times before you finally realize that you’ve run out of excuses. Just remember that there are so many opportunities for lawyers and that we are smart and resourceful.
None of us are perfect (see above), but we’re pretty damn good at a lot of things. I’ve seen a lot of blogs about changing careers and using your legal degree in another field, and today, it is much easier to do so. It’s so much easier to learn new skills or hone your existing ones all online, and we’re slowly running out of excuses as to why we can’t change our careers or why we’re stuck practicing law. I am not sure I want to practice law for the rest of my life, and I am ok with it. I am figuring out what my next step is. But for those of you who know that you’re done with law or even want to take a break, create a plan, set a date to quit, and get going on it. New year, new career! You can be a happy (non-practicing) lawyer!
Here’s one of my favorite TED Talks on how we don’t have one true calling (and why it’s ok): Why Some of Us Don’t Have One True Calling
III. Start devoting your time to others – When I am frustrated, annoyed, or just feel the need to gain control of a situation, I usually go for a run or do the inevitable, start “window shopping” online for something I know I don’t need (yes, I’m an emotional shopper). Fortunately, in 2015, I devoted a lot of my time to volunteering. I volunteered at the SPCA, helped the PNOC foundation, volunteered at a food kitchen, and even babysat my neighbor’s pets when they were on vacation. These activities made me feel better than any online purchase or long run. So if you’re ever frustrated or stressed, donate money to your favorite charity instead of buying that extra pair of shoes, go and babysit your neighbor’s cat (one of my favorite ways to help), volunteer at the local SPCA or food kitchen, or run a few races (if you really love running) that help your favorite charities, and you’ll feel much better, healthier and happier.
Here’s a resource to find volunteering opportunities near you: Volunteer Match
If anyone wants to share their advice on how to be a “happy lawyer” in the new year, drop me a note here.
Happy Lawyer Year!