Most humans are dishonest. We all know this. Pulling a sickie. White lies. Santa Claus. It’s embedded in our language and culture. But that’s not the interesting part. One Stanford professor’s experiments grabbed my attention because it showed that 80% of us will lie but only to the extent that it preserves our self-image of honesty. This is bad news for unhappy lawyers and why I put together Life Productions' Career MOT called the Career Fulfilment Score - see more below.
You see, lawyers in private practice so often have a pretty interesting (read: ridiculous) way of valuing things. You’ve got the status, security and the money. There is a crystal clear path towards a successful career and subtle reinforcement that if you leave, then you’ve failed. You’re in the club or out. So we play down all the negative emotions we have in order to preserve the integrity of our professional identity. I’m in not out. So we start to mislead ourselves, sometimes for years.
Fortunately, this time of year gives a little time for reflection. Here’s the shorthand of a conversation I had recently.
Jack the lawyer : “I dread Monday mornings”.
Me: “Sunday evenings can’t be much fun then. What do you most want to change?”
Jack: “I want my life back. My work regularly takes over my life outside of work. I’ve cancelled plans with my friends four times this month already.”
Me: “That sounds really tough. What do your friends think about this?”
Jack: “When I get out of work, I just want to switch off. Even if I did want to talk about it, the day to day is tedious, repetitive. I’ve not been creative in years and I know I’m capable of more than drafting and file prep.”
Me: “But could all this lead somewhere?”
Jack: “I don’t ever want to be in my boss's shoes. It’s more of the same with bigger problems, more stress and more schmoozing. I’m not clear about what I want in work and life. It was law school when I last really had a clear direction in my life.”
The real failure is not that we don’t know what we want. It’s the failure to tackle our willful blindness of our situation to allow ourselves to wake up and make change. The self awareness about your career drivers, what motivates you, what gets you jumping out of bed in the morning.
Own your feelings, know yourself. This was Jack's Career MOT - he was gaining clarity about where he was at now and what he most wanted to change. That's why I’ve put together this Career Fulfilment Score for you to know what you want so that you can find direction.
Yet the people who want to do something different are told to be more realistic and pull their head out of the clouds. They’re likely even criticised enough that eventually they start to believe the critics. So they give up. Or worse yet, never start in the first place.
Thankfully, some lawyers decided not to listen. Instead, they decided to pursue their own interests and reclaim ownership of their work. Lucy Gregory founded her own business and Rhodri Lewis is the Head of Legal Affairs at the Welsh Rugby Union. Both are doing what they love and are good at, every day (you can read more about inspiring lawyers’ here)
But so few people follow a path these other lawyers.
I told myself and the world that I wanted to be a lawyer, went to university and worked hard to get my pupillage that allowed me to earn a lot of money and get people thinking how great I am. None of this makes an ounce of difference if every day after work I feel like I don’t want to go back to work in the morning. Having invested time, money and belief in a job still does not make it ok to be miserable in it.
So, How Do You Make a Change When You’re Already So Deeply Committed to the Wrong Path?
If any of the above resonates with you, that’s because we all do these things. We tend to prioritise short-term ease over long-term value (and by prioritising short-term happiness over long-term we lose control of our lives). I see too many lawyers that take the biggest risk of all of thinking that the money they are saving now will be able to buy them the lifestyle and the opportunities that they want in the future. It simply does not work like that for most people. Peer pressure, the ‘herd instinct’, the hedonic treadmill and the status hold them in so much longer than they should be there. Nor can we really predict what will make us happy in the future with that great a degree of accuracy.
And the more time that runs by the more lawyers start settling for a career they don’t love, drawing compromises at the expense of their talents and strengths. However, like so many lawyers are already doing, it is possible to change your career or realign your professional interests. There are structured approaches to make a successful change in your career, even if you’re so deeply committed and think it’s not possible to achieve because of all the uncertainty that’s involved. A third of lawyers are applying for jobs outside the legal profession, according to research we carried out on job-seekers who have been qualified for less than ten years.
If you’ve been considering a change in direction, here are three things that will help get you moving towards your goals…
1. Realise There Are Countless Opportunities for you inside out outside of the law
2. Get Inspired by People Who have Already Proved What’s possible
3. Find reasons to Act that Far Outweigh the Reasons to stay
How sad it would be to remain dissatisfied in your profession for a decision you made years ago. So much untapped potential. So much that you can still be and do.
1. Realise There Are Countless Opportunities for you
Lawyers are fantastic at a lot of things, be that in-house, in a dual function role or elsewhere. Identify the underlying strengths you have to find your edge and outperform others. If you need more clarity, check out the Strengths Finder 2.0 assessment. Then you can start to plot your optimal career trajectory. Take a look at what other lawyers who have claimed ownership of their work are doing.
2. Find People Who have Already Proved What’s possible inside out outside of the law
There are so many wonderful people to start. The fastest way to do the things you don’t think can be done is to surround yourself with people already doing them.
Search these people out. This is why we do our keep track of our Success Stories and organise events for you to meet and share ideas with other law yers who have made their move into work they love. It’s also why I started Life Productions and it’s one of the motives behind my belief in doing work that matters.
3. Find reasons to Act that Far Outweigh the Reasons to stay
Getting clear on your core values is one of the first steps to finding direction in your career. These are the concepts, rules and things that define your being and are at the heart of who you truly are. Values are the wellsprings for action. A concern for the poor is fired by a sense of injustice. A passion for your work is grown when you commit to something you like and are good at. That which is meaningful, motivates. That which has significance, sustains.
But just because you studied or trained to be a certain type of lawyer does not mean you have to become stay there - or spend the rest of your working life unfulfilled.
You are not condemned by your past decisions. It’s your life. The greatest freedom you have is to choose what you want to do.
How sad it would be to remain dissatisfied in your profession for a decision you made years ago. So much untapped potential. So much that you can be and do.
It’s not about quitting without a plan. That rarely makes the most sense. The lawyers you’ll find here eased into their transition so it didn’t feel like they were risking it all. That’s certainly what I did in building Life Productions, and it’s part of a structured process that can be mastered just like any other skill. You just have to take the first step. Career Fulfilment Score is a good place to start.