If you’re an unhappy lawyer: change it up!
Plenty of good blogs and articles have decried the “fact” that lawyers are an unhappy bunch. I will accept that premise for the sake of discussion.
Why would a lawyer be unhappy? Too much pressure of client expectations? Not making enough money? Don’t get any love or gratitude from clients? Tedious work? There’s a hundred reasons of course.
I would suggest to you that lawyers, in contrast to most salary-earning employees, have an infinite amount of control and power over the factors that might be causing them to be unhappy. Unrealistic client expectations? Manage expectations better, in writing, don’t just take it on the chin. Not making enough money? Do some homework, write a real business plan, hire marketing or other business professionals to help you build or refine your practice. Focus your practice on what you want to do and price it at what you think is competitive, but not “cheap”. No love from clients? Are you sending clients the wrong messages? Do you convey the idea that you actually care about them and their business? Or, do you come off as a mercenary, merrily grinding up billable time on their files? Tedious work? Change gears, reach up: you only get one life! If you’re hanging on somewhere because the money is great, then fine, you’re doing what you really want to do, aren’t you? If not, then get real and change gears.
It’s not just brain chemistry. Being “happy” is also exerting control over your own life, and not being a wannabee. Control your work so it fulfills most or all of your important goals, whatever they are. If you can’t stand clients who nickel-dime you on accounts, fire them! Be upfront with clients about fees. Do you hate tedious, low-end work? If you fish for sardines, that’s what you’ll catch, so develop your practice to where you want to go, not where you are now. I do. It’s a bit of hard work and involves some short-term costs. I turn down small, one-off matters now, because being a small firm, high volume, low value files will make me crazy and overwhelmed. So, I have raised my deal size limit and minimum retainer. Yes, I scare away some potential clients, but after a couple years, it’s starting to pay off. Don’t work hard for ingrates – play favourites with your most pleasant, paying clients. It’s working for me. A legal practice is going to bring good days and bad days, but when I feel that I’m in control and pursuing my major goals, I have a lot more resilience to face the rough times. And I try to stand back and enjoy some perspective once in awhile and I think, Hey I’m doin’ OK!
Know what? It feels real good! And, when you are happy doing what you’re doing, in control, clients and prospects can tell that. It’s attractive to normal people who respect and trust lawyers and value what they can do to protect and grow a business. And that’s what you want, isn’t it?