New year, new you? Who is ready?
Was anyone else crawling to the end of the invisible finish line of 2022? Maybe it was just me, but I doubt it. We are all part of the legal profession; no one gets a prize at the end of the year for working the fewest number of hours.
I am not here to write about the best self-care routine for 2023 or how to work more efficiently. While I do believe in all of that, if I had the answer, I would not be wiping off the dirt from all of the crawling that I did.
Instead, I am here to ask questions about 2022. I hope that answering these questions helps you, lawyers, set development goals for the year, both personal and professional, so the transition into 2024 will be more of a slow walk than a crawl.
1. How much effort did you make to maintain important relationships?
Let’s start with an easy question. If you could gather two friends for dinner right now, who would they be? Now, how much effort did you put into maintaining those two friendships last year? Be honest.
If your answer is not as much as I would have liked, you are in good company. The maintenance work of friendships is necessary but not easy, especially with the hectic schedules attorneys keep. However, an 85-year-old Harvard research study shows that strong relationships are what make for a happy life.
I can already hear the excuses (because I am saying them in my head). I am busy at work, there are so many demands on my time, and I am worn out after lawyering all day.
While maintaining relationships may not seem like an obvious development goal for lawyers, our personal and professional connections are extremely important and I challenge us to make the time.
It does not have to be hard. Start with an 8-minute phone call. Yes, you read that correctly: not a text, a phone call.
Propose a call with a friend or colleague and keep the call to 8 minutes. You will be surprised how much you can cover in this short time. Think of it like you are billing time. We all have 8 minutes. Yes, even the busiest lawyers around.
2. Do you still believe in your “why”?
The questions are about to get a little tougher. When you decided to attend law school, you likely did so for a reason. It might have been to help those in need, fight for criminal justice reform, or become a community leader.
Have you revisited this “why” lately? And is it something you still believe in it?
This week, I was fortunate to be part of the Commission on Professionalism’s Courthouse Professionalism Training. I watched about 50 members of the courthouse staff in Markham, Illinois, reflect on why they do the work they do and how they can do it better, particularly with the professionalism needed to administer justice daily.
As a lawyer, it is easy to lose sight of the forest through the trees. You work long and hard hours and get caught up in case after case; it is easy to forget why you do the work you do.
Or, perhaps your reasons for becoming a lawyer have changed and your “why” does not inspire you anymore.
If you need a little inspiration, check out the Preamble to the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. I can see your eyes rolling, but hear me out. It is a good reminder of the important roles that you, as a lawyer, play in our society.
A great example of this is from the Preamble: “…a lawyer should further the public’s understanding of and confidence in the rule of law and the justice system because legal institutions in a constitutional democracy depend on popular participation and support to maintain their authority.”
Now lawyers, think of all of the development goals you could focus on from that sentence alone.
3. What are you doing to improve the diversity of the legal profession?
NALP released its annual Report on Diversity in U.S. Law Firms this week. I look at this report every year and just shake my head. The lack of diversity in our profession is unacceptable.
NALP Executive Director Nakia L. Gray summed it up well in a press release: “The data demonstrates that we are nowhere near achieving the progress one would expect from an industry that has been focused on the issue of diversity for over three decades.”
If your answer to my question “What are you doing to improve diversity in the legal profession?” is not much, I have a suggestion. Join the Institute for Inclusion in the Legal Profession’s #TalkIntoAction initiative.
The initiative asks you to engage in a 1-hour discussion about diversity, equity, and inclusion with another professional whose diversity is different from yours.
Some good starting questions may be: Why isn’t the legal profession moving the needle forward on diversity, equity, and inclusion? And what are practical actions that can change this reality?
4. What do you need to let go of?
I will end with another easy question. What do you need to let go of from last year? I am guessing the answer may be easy. The hard part, however, is putting it into action.
It is hard because there is a reason you are holding on to it and you need to figure out what that reason is. It may be anger at how a colleague treated you or disappointment at the outcome of a case you worked tirelessly on, day in and day out.
Now ask yourself how you benefit from holding on to this.
As my meditation teacher always reminds me, if your cup is overflowing, nothing new can get in. If you continue to ruminate about the loss of a case, it is going to impact cases moving forward.
By letting go, you free up the space in your mind and have more energy to learn from the situation and create a new and better outcome next time.
Take baby steps, people. Rome was not built in a day, and lawyers will not commit to development goals or change our suboptimal well-being practices overnight. However, I will do my best to take steps so that I am walking (or even jogging) instead of crawling at the end of the year. I hope you will too.
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