The Law Firm of Joy and Life
My search for Joy started in 2001. I’d been living in Portland for three years, when I found myself not so much unhappy with being a lawyer, but not experiencing the deep satisfaction I wanted.
As I cast about trying to find what was missing, I came up empty. I’d changed many of the factors that made me unhappy when I worked in Eugene.
I was confused. So, I went down a mental checklist:
Was I happy where I worked? Yes.
Did I like the work I was doing? Yes.
Did I like who I was working with? Yes.
Was I happy with my law partner? Yes.
Did I like my clients? Yes.
That’s when the Judge entered the scene. My mental judge that is. “You should be thankful for all you have. You have a wonderful wife, two amazing daughters, a beautiful home and a great job. What’s your problem? Stop complaining.”
Those were powerful words. Why? Because they were all true. But they weren’t the complete truth. Every time the black robes came out, I shut down. This went on for a number of months. Each time the feeling that something was missing came up, I was castigated by my own thoughts.
Surprising as it sounds, guilt, judgment, and shame aren’t friends of self exploration or any healthy relationship — including the one with yourself.
Even though I was happy in so many areas of my life, I wasn’t experiencing the deeper personal meaning I was looking for in my work. In doing my best to keep the effects of the Judge to a minimum, I focused my attention on experiences that I knew were my “deep truths.”
I had to persevere and not let my inner critic beat me down.
Growing up with a mom who’s an accomplished pianist meant I’d hear her practice every day. She’d be working on one of Mozart’s piano pieces day after day, week after week, for months — perfecting how she played the piece.
For my mom, and any accomplished artist, practicing was about more than not hitting the wrong notes. She was searching for that just right feeling as she played — the correct keys, pacing, and flow. The emotional connection with the music.
Slowly she began to master each part of the song, until finally she played it in a way that felt right to her. I could feel it when she’d reach that point. She didn’t have to tell me.
That’s what I wanted in my work day. Not simply a mastery of the skills that it takes to be a lawyer, but using them in such a way that they resonated through me like the music did for my mom.
I started paying extra attention to how I felt as I went through my work days. I looked for patterns in experiences that brought me that same feeling I got from listening to my mom when she finally nailed a song.
What slowly began to emerge were aspects of conversations with clients, the attorneys and staff in my office. Experiences that — when I looked back at my day — stood out; not because of some great achievement, but because of a deeper satisfying feeling that they struck inside me.
That’s when it dawned on me that the answer had been right in front of me the whole time: I am a relationship driven person.
My clients are one of the biggest parts of practicing law that brings me Joy. It’s not my win-loss record, how much I settle a case for, a great brief I wrote, or how much money I make. Don’t get me wrong — all of those do make me happy — but they don’t provide real meaning in my life.
Meaningful connection with others is one of my deep truths. I’ve heard it called ‘a ping’ or ‘what resonates.’ You know, that feeling you get when what you are doing is intensely right inside of you.
I can have a 15 minute phone call with a client where 13 of the minutes are me doing my job of answering their questions, but the last two minutes are spent identifying with how they are feeling and making sure they know I fully have their back.
Sometimes I spend the entire 15 minutes deeply listening to their anger and frustration with what’s going on because of their injury. It’s not easy to do. It’s far easier to write off what they say and disengage from the conversation — I sometimes find myself battling those feelings. But when I push through and hear the sound in their voice when they’ve broke through their anger and frustration to find a great peace or understanding, that’s when I know I’m in true alignment with myself.
With each interaction with a client — whether it’s an in-person meeting, phone call, email, or letter — my goal is to make the connection as meaningful as possible.
That’s what brings me JOY in the practice of law and continues to do so on an even deeper and richer level 15 years later.
What brings us great meaning in life isn’t static. It evolves with time as we do. We dig deeper, strike new veins or peel off in a slightly different direction. Which is how I continue to experience great joy and happiness in life.
What parts of being an attorney brings you joy in your daily practice?
Wouldn’t it be great if we all worked at The Law Firm of Joy and Happiness?
For more on the topic, check out this interesting article about joy and happiness.