Making Work, Work

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.



Making Work, Work

What Business Legacy Will You Leave?

If you stopped working today, what business legacy would you leave? Unless you do something about it, it could be a bullet-point list of skills on your LinkedIn profile, a string of work emails or how many billable hours you’ve worked. Is this really how you want to be remembered in your professional life? It’s worth taking a hard look at what you do and how you do it, to shape your business legacy into something that reflects who you are – here are a few tips.

How Do You Want To Be Remembered?

In her TEDx talk, How To be Remembered, Obelisk Support CEO Dana Denis-Smith talked about her visual archive, the photographs she’s collected from birth until age 16 in rural Transylvania. In one striking shot, she shows the audience a DIY collage of her photographic collection for her youth – just 11 photographs covering 16 years of her life, and not one more. “Until I took a deliberate action to document my life,” she says, “I made a lot of assumptions about how much I had.”

What documents would you keep to shape your business legacy? Is there a paper you’re particularly proud of, a professional award, a ground-breaking court case or a contribution to a larger body of work? Some lawyers are remembered because they broke barriers. Others because they revived originalism and textualism in the law. Others thanks to their pro bono involvement. At Obelisk Support, we are very proud that we helped hundreds of brilliant female lawyers return to the law after career gaps, when nobody else would give them a chance because career gaps are a deal-breaker for many legal recruiters.

There are so many ways lawyers (and other professionals) can make a difference in the world, even if it’s at microscopic level. Whatever it is you want to be remembered for, make sure that you keep track of the achievements you are proud of.

How Your Work Behaviour Reflects on You

Maya Angelou famously said that, “people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

It’s true of the professional world too. When I started my career as a young tax lawyer at Clifford Chance, I remember distinctly how one partner always supported me and mentored me, helping me grow from an inexperienced trainee to a corporate tax project manager. We’ve stayed in contact through this day and I still appreciate him as a great human being. On the other hand, another partner was very short-tempered and I remember his temper outbursts more than what we worked on together. One made me feel valued while the other one made me feel useless. Obviously, personal relationships can have a huge impact at work and a negative attitude can badly affect your colleagues.

At Obelisk Support, we recently hosted a workshop on emotional intelligence that resonated with many of our legal consultants. Using the principles of emotional intelligence, there are ways for people to learn to deal with anger in constructive ways. If that doesn’t work, try these tips to keep your anger in check. Yes, being a lawyer is stressful but a stressful job is a poor excuse for a bad attitude. We all have to deal with shit in our lives. Don’t be remembered for the wrong reasons.

CEOs, What’s Your Human Legacy?

If you’re in a leadership position, your human legacy will matter more than any multi-digit fancy spreadsheet. As a CEO or high-ranking executive, the obvious legacy you leave behind is how you grew or transformed a business. However what you leave behind in terms of people matters more and more. Using a Game of Thrones analogy, do you want to be remembered as a Cersei Lannister, Stannis Baratheon or a Jon Snow?

Being a good leader is hard work, but being an ethical good leader creating social value both for employees and other stakeholders is even harder work. In a 2014 global CEO survey, PwC asked 1,344 leaders what they wanted to be remembered for. Roughly 30% of CEOs wanted to  to be remembered for the kind of personal attributes they exhibited, compared to 9% in 2007. According to the survey, “the financial crisis might be the catalyst for the double-digit growth in the number of CEOs who wanted to be remembered for their sound personal qualities. CEOs have been reminded that regaining public trust in the role of business starts with ethical leadership and conduct.”

Indeed, a bad legacy can backfire. On Glassdoor, an employee who worked five years full-time at a large consulting firm writes: “Legacy of ex-CEO remains, driven more so by bottom line profit than other Big 4 (from my experience). This can come at the sacrifice of keeping talented employees.”

Though we live in a society that’s obsessed with measuring data and trends, people also need inspiration and creativity to progress towards higher goals and better well-being. They need to dream and they need to hope. Without dream and hope, life wouldn’t be worth living.

In Gregory Dess and Joseph Picken’s Changing Roles: Leadership In The 21st Century, the five key roles of leadership are listed as:

  1. Using strategic vision to motivate and inspire
  2. Empowering employees at all levels
  3. Accumulating and sharing internal knowledge
  4. Gathering and integrating external information
  5. Challenging the status quo and enabling creativity

So, shall it be Daenerys Targaryen, then? 

As individuals we can’t all do something huge and world changing, but the impact we have on our own little corner of the earth can help carve a path for more positive change, long after we are gone. It’s never too soon to think about what business legacy you will leave behind.