I didn’t expect to receive so many messages and phone calls, let alone have so many brave lawyers share their stories of hardship, strength and resilience with me.
I heard from lawyers who had to continue working long hours while fighting cancer and other serious health issues. I was contacted by lawyers and other business owners who had to miss important family events, like a son’s university graduation, due to work pressures. Several female lawyers told me how they had to deal with intense work stress while pregnant. I had tears in my eyes as I read an email from a lawyer who had no choice but to work on the day of her Mum’s funeral.
This got me thinking – are our legal careers dehumanising us? Are we focused on being lawyers first, and humans second? Not only do we deprive ourselves of time off to recharge, hang out with loved ones and do the things we love, we deprive ourselves of time to grieve, heal, get well and fight for our lives.
Why do lawyers consider it a weakness to be human?
Here are two reasons:
- The “traditional” lawyer mold: The traditional lawyer mold has a lot to answer for. TV, movies, law school, law firms and other lawyers tell us we need to look and act a certain way to be a successful lawyer. This includes wearing dark suits, being aggressive, being competitive, working long hours, dressing conservatively, being obsessed with money and material stuff, working in swanky offices, and putting our career above all else. We become hungry for money and prestige. We’re worried that if we step outside the traditional lawyer mold, we won’t become partner or we’ll lose our good clients or we won’t get the promotion. To fit the traditional lawyer mold many of us have to ignore who we really are, be inauthentic and prioritise the law over our basic human needs.
- We don’t create practices and law firms that can run without us: Many law firms are rife with inefficiencies and lack of strategic planning. The true cost of this can be seen when the going gets tough or you have an important family event and you need some time off. Your practice or law firm can’t seem to live without you, and the end result is you don’t take that badly needed time off. It sucks, but that’s just a sacrifice the traditional lawyer mold requires us to make, right?
That’s not good enough
We don’t have to be inauthentic to be successful. We don’t have to sacrifice taking time off and happiness to be a good lawyer. A few weeks ago I wrote The Lawyers of Now: A Manifesto. Through our work with Automio we’re seeing a lot of lawyers saying NO to the traditional lawyer mold. They are standing up and being Lawyers of NOW. They are creating careers and lives they crave and they’re getting their humanity back.
What about the way we treat other lawyers?
Not only have we lost our humanity for ourselves, but some lawyers have lost their compassion for their fellow lawyers. In the month or so after my Dad died I experienced a number of situations where other lawyers used my situation to their advantage and were unfairly inflexible and rude. This was a common theme among a number of the lawyers who have contacted me to share their stories. They couldn’t believe how badly they were treated by some other lawyers, both inside and outside of their law firms. It is a real shame that the traditional lawyer mold has dehumanised some of us to a point where some lawyers can’t even show kindness and compassion to their fellow lawyers in difficult times.
So what can we do about this?
We can’t continue treating ourselves so miserably. Here are my recommendations to help you prioritise humanity over the law and be a happier lawyer:
- Get a team in place that doesn’t need youMy old law firm’s online brand, Legal Beagle, pretty much operated without my involvement. As a sole practitioner I still needed to sign off on solicitor’s certificates and undertakings, but other than that our Legal Beagle team had everything covered. After my father died and we were hit with cash flow issues, it was a life saver that we had this team generating revenue that didn’t need much attention from me.Creating a team like this will take some time but persevere as it will result in you being able to take time off without stressing about quality of service. You’ll even be able to take a sick day when you’re sick (wow wee).
- Be a good bugger to your fellow lawyersYou can still represent your clients to the best of your ability while being respectful and kind to other lawyers. You don’t have to be an A-hole to be a good lawyer, despite what the traditional lawyer mold might tell you. Before you send an email to someone belittling them for their incorrect apostrophe usage, just remember that everyone is fighting their own battle and whether they incorrectly put the apostrophe before or after the ‘s’ is no reflection of their ability as a lawyer and a human being. If another lawyer wants to change a date for something due to a personal issue and there is no good reason for not changing the date, change the damn date. You never know when you’ll need some kindness and flexibility in return.
- Use an online sales funnel to bring in new workNearly all Legal Beagle clients came in through our automated, online sales funnel using a few different digital marketing techniques. This took the pressure off me to make sure we all had enough work on. To increase the amount of legal work coming in through Legal Beagle we just had to increase the amount being spent on digital marketing. If the team got too busy we’d pull back our spend on digital advertising, or turn the advertising off for a while. Having a streamlined online sales funnel will mean fewer hours grinding it out and more time to do what matters most.
- Automate as many of your law firm tasks as you canBy automating legal document creation as well as other processes in your law firm, your team is less reliant on you. Your team will be more efficient and happier in their jobs. They’ll feel more competent, and you’ll trust them more. Your risk from human error decreases. Clever software and bots make great employees – they don’t sick days, coffee breaks or pay rises. Your firm will become more efficient and profitable. It also means that if key staff leave the firm their tasks can be easily taken over by someone else without loads of training. You’ll then be able to take that much needed, stress-free time off.
- Create passive incomePart of the problem with being a lawyer is that the amount you earn directly relates to the amount of hours you work. So to earn more you have to work more. Lawyers are well-known for working long hours. This is often at the expense of our family time, personal relationships, health and happiness. Happiness is the new wealth and many lawyers find themselves bankrupt in happiness.One way for a lawyer to create passive income is to make money off your intellectual property. When you use your IP to create passive income, it continues to make you money long after you’ve done the work. An example of using your IP to create passive income is automating your most popular legal documents and selling them online. Another example is creating an online course on topics you regularly assist your clients with.Once you’ve created these products, they can be sold over and over again with little extra effort by you. This means more time to spend on what matters to you most. It will also improve your cash flow as your products are paid for upfront or at regular intervals, so no more time spent chasing debtors.The revenue that comes from selling legal products will also help with stress levels through the more difficult times financially for a law firm, like the property market cooling down or the death of one your business partners.
It’s time to make some bold changes and be kinder to ourselves
Lawyers need to stop accepting that being a lawyer means you have to feel miserable a lot of the time. Yes, being a lawyer is getting harder because clients expect more for less. Yes, it is becoming harder to run profitable law firms and costs are increasing. Yes, it is difficult to get good staff. Yes, we are in an uncertain time with automation and AI hitting our industry. Yes yes YES.
But the opportunities to create amazing law firms and legal careers and lives that we crave are massive. So if you’re feeling unhappy because you crave a life where you work less and do more of what matters, then make the decision right now to make some bold changes.
It’s time to find happiness and be authentic. It’s time to become a Lawyer of NOW.
P.S. If you want to get some automation happening in your life, book a free online demo of Automio. Automio empowers lawyers to automate repetitive, time-consuming tasks like document drafting.