“ All external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure-these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important.”- Steve Jobs
It’s a long day as I take my brother to cancer treatment. I sit with him as he surrenders to chemotherapy dripping into his veins, hoping that he’ll be cured.
Across town in hospice, a fellow lawyer is saying goodbye. He’s practiced law for over 40 years.
Not surprisingly, I begin to reflect on my own mortality and significance. Does my life really matter? Am I doing what I was meant to do? What will I be remembered for?
In Living Forward the authors define legacy as “the spiritual, intellectual, relational, vocational and social capital we pass on.” As a lawyer, what gets in the way of leaving a lasting legacy ?
- Ego. Much of our identity is tied up in our label as “lawyer.” We joke about the reputation of lawyers but deep down we feel our title brings prestige and worthiness. My dad used to say, “People say they hate lawyers but they usually love their own lawyer.”
When we tie up our entire identity in the work we do, it limits our impact and influence in other areas of our lives. Can we let down from the public lawyer persona to be authentic? Do we keep aspects of ourselves “on the down low” because we worry if people really knew us it could be bad for business?
Question: Are you doing things that look good on paper, on the bottom line or at the firm, but that are draining you emotionally? Is there something that your heart yearns to do, but your are too afraid to undertake?
- Scarcity Mentality. Lawyers live in the constant shadow of the billable hour. From the moment you hit the door in the morning every minute literally counts. Time spent outside your billable events leaves more time to make up in the office. When we plan vacation we frontload hours so we aren’t so far behind when we get back, and field emails on vacation before our family awakens to go to the beach. A part of us is never far away from a timesheet.
We may believe if we don’t take every client that comes our way now, cases might not come tomorrow. We take cases without discernment and end up doing unpaid work as a result of retainers running out or a judge who won’t let us withdraw. Then we become self deprecating and frustrated for having taken the case in the first place.
Question: Do you leave your dreams at the doorstep because you feel it’s about survival instead of destiny?
- Constant immersion in toxicity. Every day we deal with clients with grave wounds, both physical and emotional. We handle the circumstances around life’s most devastating events. We are expected to “rescue” our clients from disasters they have often created themselves, so we think about these negative fact patterns over and over even on our supposed “off” time.
This constant immersion into the darkness of life leaves us little time to dream, reflect or connect with our interior life. A life’s desire can be lost in the fog, recast in our mind as nothing more than a whim, or tucked away as “too risky.” The failure to unplug for even short periods from the office, returning email or calls and churning cases in our heads means we are never fully present for our loved ones and the beauty of life.
Question: When is the last time you unplugged, and spent time totally away from work, for even a short period time? Are you exercising self care?
- Personal and financial insecurity. When we have been successful lawyers we risk prestige and prosperity by branching out. What will everyone think? How can we give up the golden handcuffs? A lawyer friend chucked his law practice and opened a gourmet spice store in a trendy part of my hometown. Lawyers flocked to his store because it was extraordinary, but also to study him as an example of uncommon courage and authenticity. Sadly, the lawyer died unexpectedly at age 46, only a short time after the store had opened.
Lawyers are often the caretakers of less productive friends or family members, sometimes even supporting others who have not made good choices with their lives or finances. They look to us as “having it all” and don’t hesitate to ask for handouts or help.
Question: What would it take to set boundaries with your money? Are the things that you acquire from wealth blocking you from taking risks to fulfill your heart’s desire? Are there people you are enabling by “helping” financially?
- Lack of transition planning. In my first law firm job over thirty years ago the partners took me by the macabre office of the named senior partner pointing to a dusty wooden desk telling me that is where he had dropped dead. Was that supposed to inspire me?
New lawyers claim the older lawyers aren’t moving over to make room. I recently suggested that a young lawyer ask an older lawyer to coffee, to get hints on how that lawyer had built the type of practice the young lawyer aspired to create. The older lawyer did not offer any advice and the impression was that the older lawyer was “hoarding” the work for himself.
It can be a blow to our ego when clients we introduce to younger lawyers decide to transition their work to that younger lawyer excluding us. Thoughtful transition and passing the baton can play in to insecurities and make us question our relevance.
Question: Are you sharing your wisdom and experience with younger lawyers? Are you encouraging a younger lawyer who is struggling?
As lawyers we owe it to ourselves to ask these questions at all stages of the practice, not just as we move into the final chapters of our professional careers.
Are you on target for your legacy?
I love to coach lawyers! If you are interested in hiring me as a coach contact me: firstname.lastname@example.org