Career Goals Wellness

Life as a lawyer amounts to a lot more than accounts receivable!

Written by David E. Behrend

Going through an article written almost 20 years ago, I got to thinking about what lawyers, even very successful ones go through to get to their stature in the profession. It described the story of a lawyer whom was Chairman of a major department at a BIG LAW firm, and recently elected to the firms prestigious executive committee. And….he was miserable.

Counseling and guiding lawyers these past two decade nationwide, I have come across bright, talented men and women who are in a similar situation. What really mattered in the business of law to this successful lawyer was how many paid clients you had, and how many associates you could keep busy…billing clients. Finally, who really gets credit for the case, and how quickly the turnaround was on accounts receivable i.e. when the check comes into the firm from the clients.

Like others lawyers he would come home ‘totally torqued up’, decompress, grab a drink, and flop into a chair despondent. Loving the law and the chance to solve verbal jigsaw puzzles was fine, but less intrinsically rewarding as time progressed.

Under tremendous stress, over weight, he had to make a change. I should add that since the legal recession started world wide in 2008, there has been more pressure on law firms, and those whom lead them, than ever before, and this is almost 20 years after the article was written.

The lawyer applied for a position as a mediator with the Federal Courts and was accepted, taking a huge pay cut. When he told a managing partner of the move, “He thought I was out of my mind.” One thing I ask clients on the phone in our initial discussion, prior to setting up a Career Planning Consultation and Evaluation is ‘How long have you thought about making a change’. Although it varies, most reply any where from 2 to 5 years. I explain to them this is like a painful toothache; it will not go away until you make a change i.e. see your dentist to evaluate the discomfort. I have found many stay in a miserable situation at work, because of ‘fear of change!’

As the former equity partner took the plunge he found the knack for negotiating, and enjoyed trying to settle disputes rather than than prolong them. In time he became a Federal Magistrate. ‘It’s a wonderful job…. I have reacquainted myself with why I went to law school…am no longer a salesman having to sell it to the client…but now can make hard decisions not worrying about the consequences.’

Any regrets from the lawyer? ‘ I know so many unhappy lawyers who are just blowing off one day after the next.. so if you are not enjoying it, what a waste. When I die I don’t want my tombstone to say ‘ He billed 80,000 hours, but rather he sure had fun.’

In my practice I use a Behrend Gratification Index with clients, which says that in your job, position, career, having a 75 % internal gratification (what work you do day in and day out) is a sign to me of being reasonably happy in your employment situation. The above story tells what can happen if you are willing to make a change to a more comfortable work-life style.

About the author

David E. Behrend

Director of Career Planning Service, I have been a consultant working with attorneys and other professionals for over 25 years. My focus is on career development, concentrating on meaningful or necessary job change or career transitions. I have authored many articles on the subject, and have appeared on numerous radio and television shows. My practice offers both office and telephone career consultations.

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