As we enter our sixth month of a world transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are still facing challenges. Many legal practitioners are not just surviving, but thriving in our new remote work environment. However, some are working in small spaces, or without childcare available, or amidst a number of factors causing additional stress during this already difficult time.
Admittedly, it’s been difficult for lawyers to thrive as humans even under the best circumstances. The oft-cited 2016 study by the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation and the American Bar Association Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs found that 21% of licensed, employed attorneys qualify as problem drinkers, 28% struggle with some level of depression and 19% demonstrate symptoms of anxiety. And, the 2018 Legal Trends Report found that 75% of lawyers report frequently or always working outside of regular business hours, with 39% saying these long hours negatively affect their personal lives.
In many ways, the legal profession does not currently put lawyers as humans first. For example, amidst the pandemic, thousands of recent law school graduates have taken (or are taking) the bar exam in uncertain, delayed, and/or unsafe circumstances as a number of states have denied petitions for diploma privilege. Donna Saadati-Soto and Efrain Hudnell, co-founders of United for Diploma Privilege, dove further into this issue on a recent episode of our Daily Matters podcast.
This needs to change. To effectively provide legal services, keep improving the profession, and uphold the laws that govern our society, lawyers both need and deserve the space to take care of themselves. You cannot serve others from an empty cup, and treating yourself as a human being should not be opposed to career and/or law firm success.
Remember, a client-centered approach is not a client-first one—it’s also a firm-focused mindset. Your ability to effectively meet client needs is central to the success of your law firm. However, this should not come before the health of your business, your personal health, or you as a human being. Putting clients first unreservedly while putting your law firm and yourself second is not a recipe for personal or firm success.
Being client-centered means giving clients exactly what they want and delivering that experience in the most effortless way possible, in a way that’s efficient, profitable, and sustainable for your law firm—and for you as a human. These goals drive each other, creating a flywheel of success at your law firm, and enabling you to thrive as both a legal practitioner and a person.
It’s absolutely crucial to do what’s right for you, because the best way you can contribute to the legal industry and to clients in need of legal services is to be the best, fully recharged version of yourself. There are plenty of inspirational stories of incredibly resilient lawyers taking alternative approaches to thriving as lawyers and humans. Ross Albers was fired from a small law firm job just weeks before his wedding, and responded by starting his own, now thriving, law firm. Nicole Abboud-Shayan always thought her calling was to be a lawyer—until she became one and realized she had a different calling. Now she contributes to the success of the legal profession by blogging, speaking, and creating content to help build a better future for legal professionals and their clients. You can listen to their stories in Daily Matters podcast episode 86 and episode 84 respectively.
The law will always be a demanding profession by nature. But as an industry, we need to do a better job of helping each other—and ourselves—thrive as both legal professionals and as individuals. There’s a lot of work to do, but I believe there are enough resourceful, passionate people in this industry to drive real change. We have an obligation, and a unique opportunity amidst COVID-19, to make things better—for clients, for lawyers, and for the next generation of legal professionals.
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