The Purposeful Lawyer: Discovering (or Rediscovering) Your Raison D’Être in Law

Do lawyers need a purpose to drive them in their career? There is, in our view, more driving lawyers to battle against the burnout, the long hours, the sexism, to stay and thrive within the law. The career choice is about more than money, and goes further than prestige. For many lawyers there is strong purpose and real impact to be made through the work they do.

But how many are fulfilling their purpose? What is the reason, for example, that such high percentages of Gen X and Millennials are feeling dissatisfied in the law, according to this Nimble Services LLC 2018 Lawyer Happiness Survey? It found more than 66% of Generation X lawyers plan to leave their current organisation, and only 40% are satisfied with the culture of their organisation.

Many respondents cited remuneration, workplace culture and resistance to change as reasons behind their lack of engagement, but does it go deeper? In a groundbreaking 2015 in-depth study of lawyer’s happiness, it was determined that a sense of autonomy and self-determined job motivation are vital components in career satisfaction and wellbeing – they want to be in control of their development and set value-aligned goals. Lawyers, just like so many other professionals, want to make a difference in their chosen area, and have something to prove – even if some haven’t quite figured out what that is yet.

Chances are as a legal student you went in with a particular idea of your career goals and purpose, but that, along with the perception of the reality of the work, changed along the way. Changing outlooks and goals is not unusual or indeed a bad thing, but if you are feeling a sense of loss of purpose or drive it might be time to reconnect with your sense of self and why you went into law in the first place. Here are some ways you can do that and become a lawyer with purpose once more.

Define What You Want Your Legacy To Be

It’s time to get specific about how you want to be remembered. Leaving a legacy is something we have covered in detail previously on The Attic, so take some time to read if you missed it. It’s never too soon, or indeed too late to consider what mark you want to leave behind on the world. The biggest part of your legacy is the impact you have on others, so when it comes to considering what that is, think about the impression that memorable people have left with you. What feeling do you think you leave behind after you have left a room? Ask a trusted confidante their honest opinion of their initial and current opinion of you. And without being maudlin ask yourself, how would you like your eulogy to read? How is it exactly that you want to be remembered in your life and work? This will help you to drill down to what achievements matter most.

Examine Why You Excel At What You Excel At

Professionally, knowing what skills we have and what we can contribute in our job role is part and parcel of our development. But how often do we really ask ourselves why we are good at these things and have honed those particular skills? Go right back to the root: what is it about your personality and character that has led you here? What are the values and principles you hold that have influenced your skills and where could that, combined with the experience you have gathered so far, take you in future? For example, We can look for inspiration amongst our lawyers who are changing the world for the better, such as Victoria Anderson whose early passion for education and diversity led to a student volunteering project at law school, which became a fully fledged charity.

Remember Purpose Is Not Happiness

Well, not exactly. Purpose is essential to overall happiness, but we should remind ourselves that feeling happy is not a constant state of being, it is a moment. We can’t be happy all the time, and worse – we lose sight of what we are trying to achieve with too much focus on trying to be happy constantly. Happiness shouldn’t be the goal when it comes to finding your purpose – view it as a wonderful by product and a reward for the more mundane and difficult times.

Ask What You Can Change

In an industry that can be resistant to change, this can seem an insurmountable task. But having purpose means you see something that needs your unique input – it doesn’t have to be world-changing (see below) but the intention must be to have an impact on the little corner of the world you are working in currently. Is it something in work culture, local community, that you and/or your organisation can play a bigger role in? Or is it something more personal? To work out what to focus on, decide what is within your reach, what it could be in the future, and what is probably unrealistic.

Purpose Doesn’t Have to Be Big, Or One Single Thing

Purpose isn’t always about following one road, there are multiple purposes to be served in work and life, and those purposes will change as life goes on. So there is nothing stopping you identifying lots of different, small drivers that you want to work towards.

It doesn’t always have to be something big, either. When we talk of purpose, it can often appear to mean something lofty and idealistic. But purpose can be large or small.  Real purpose is grounded in what is within our grasp and what we believe can become reality with our input.

Even when it comes to the bigger picture, being purpose driven requires small daily actions. And yes, you’ll be pleased to know there is an app to help you take those small, daily steps – the On Purpose app is a simple tool for crafting a powerful and personally meaningful purpose statement and then keeping track of how aligned your daily life is in relation to that purpose. The app is based on the graphic novel by Professor and Director for Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship Vic Strecher.

Purpose Should Be Shared

Finally, finding and following a purpose shouldn’t be a solitary activity. Shared purpose is in fact vital for motivation and engagement in work – so engage colleagues, verbalise what what want to achieve and how you see that fitting within the organisation. If your purpose falls outside of the organisation you currently work for, seek out relevant like-minded groups. Thankfully, there are many local and national membership organisations and community groups of all kinds within the law, which can be a valuable source of inspiration and help you regain your sense of self and give you renewed purpose in work.