Not Feeling Especially Thankful? Learn How to Stay in Practice and Enjoy it More

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

Reprinted with the permission of the King County Bar Association, November 2004.

Here are some resources that can help you enjoy your practice more.

Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, by Steven Keeva is an important book for lawyers. It will make some lawyers uncomfortable for its touchy-feely approach to practicing law. However, it is an inspirational book that lets you know there are lawyers out there willing to practice in a different manner who are still highly successful. Steven Keeva, although not a lawyer, is a senior editor for the ABA Journal and has been writing about lawyers and the legal profession for many years.

Through interviews and anecdotes that draw upon the experiences of lawyers Keeva demonstrates that lawyers can be caring and compassion and very successful in a variety of difference practice areas. Keeva describes lawyers who have created practices that are true to their values and result in fulfillment and contentment in their practices. Keeva writes about lawyers who have successfully changed their work habits and attitudes.

He identifies seven types of law practices that resulted when the lawyers he writes about brought their practices into alignment with their innermost values - each in their own way. The titles he gave these practices suggest how those lawyers chose to design and carry out their law practice:

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Stress Management for Lawyers: How to Increase Personal & Professional Satisfaction in the Law by Amiram Elwork, outlines the reasons that law is one of the most stressful professions and offers self-help methods appropriate for lawyers.

Stress comes with the practice of law. Stressors, which include the requirement for high billable hours, time pressures, perfectionism, and conflict, make it difficult to have a satisfying career and fulfilling personal life. Elwork's book is full of valuable insight and good strategies to help you navigate the stresses of your practice. I appreciate Elwork's perspective that stress is necessary for a productive life in order to motivate. His book focuses on reducing the destructive form of stress or "distress" that cause extreme negative emotions of fear, anxiety, shame, guilt and anger.

He includes relaxation techniques - as simple as remembering to take time to breath during the day. He covers the importance of good nutrition and regular exercise to reduce stress.

He addresses that the way lawyers think about problems can exacerbate or relieve their stress. They may choose to think the problem into a downward negative spiral or think proactively to figure out how to solve the problem.

He suggests that first you must become aware of and understand your personal stress reactions. Then you must evaluate which of your reactions (which are also habits) are negative. Then improve matters by replacing your negative reactions with positive more beneficial actions.

Elwork also applies his "understand, evaluate and improve your thoughts" methodology to using your time more effectively. He states it is necessary to understand your hidden motives that cause you to accept interruptions and procrastinate when you know they are time wasters.

The book helps you understand why you are stressed out and what you can do about it. It is an easy to read practical book.

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The Lawyer's Guide to Balancing Life and Work: Taking the Stress Out of Success by George W. Kaufman, is an effective, therapeutic book full of exercises and examples intended to help lawyers achieve more balance and personal and professional satisfaction in their lives.

Kaufman accuses law firms of failing to address that developing a balance between career and personal lives is an industry issue. "The law industry is silent about how we achieve professional satisfaction and still protect ourselves from overdosing on career." Kaufman practiced law for thirty-five years and understands first hand the dilemma of being of service to clients 24/7 without harming yourself.

Kaufman asserts that, in order to get the benefit of his book, you must be willing to participate. By that he means you must actually complete the more than twenty exercises throughout his book. The exercises are intended to aid your self-exploration, and help you come up with a plan. My personal favorite exercise is his values identification exercise - probably because value identification is the foundation of my work with my coaching clients. Making good personal choices is easiest when you know your values and you make your decisions based on those values that are important to you.

Kaufman acknowledges that behavior changes are difficult to make. But if you want to enjoy your practice more than you have been, you might find it worth your while to work your way through his book.

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Irene Leonard, lawyer and professional business coach. Irene works with lawyers to help them understand what motivates them and how to enjoy their practice more. She is the author of Create the Practice You Want: Law Practice Development Workbook. For more information visit her web site www.CoachingForChange.com or call her at (206) 723 9900.