Friday, August 6, 2010

Finding Purpose in Your Practice (for Lawyers)

Finding Purpose in Your Practice

Today I changed my intake sheet. I just had to do it. My practice is constantly evolving. Although I am a practicing member of the Florida Bar, I most enjoy working as a certified family mediator with pre-suit pro se couples. I've already eschewed the practice of litigation. I've already declared myself a conscientious objector to the war of divorce. Haven't I already gone far enough away from the traditional practice of law? Well, I'll tell you...

I learn so much from my clients. The other day I realized that some of them as a couple really don't want this divorce, they just don't think they have any options. Maybe they went to couples therapy and they felt it didn't work. Sometimes when a couple comes in for a divorce, after talking things over at our first meeting, they decide that what they really want is to work on saving their marriage. So, I decided to make room in my practice for people who want to explore the possibility of staying together.

Oftentimes a couple is just stressed out and thinks that divorce is the only answer. Many times it is.  But, sometimes it's not.  Sometimes the issues a couple struggles with--such as money and child rearing matters--are not going to go away just because they get divorced. Oftentimes, divorce just exacerbates an already dire situation. 

So what does this mean? We need to remain flexible and be creative about who we are and what we do. We need to keep checking in with ourselves to make sure we are truly doing the life's work we think we are doing.  A little over a decade ago, I went through training at an online "university" called Coach University to be trained as an executive life coach.  I truly loved coaching and I found myself applying coaching concepts to my personal and professional life daily. But somehow the business of being a lawyer--first in a big-city large corporate law firm and later as a sole practitioner in a small town--took over my identity.

Finally, in 2008, I was able to break away from the traditional practice of law and identify myself as a mediator and self-proclaimed "peacemaking lawyer." This was definitely a move in the right direction for me and for the types of clients I wanted to serve. Taking it a step further, I have now fully embraced being a coach--both for distressed couples and for individuals seeking a better life--and it is like coming home. Although I had started calling myself a "divorce coach" earlier this year, I added "marriage coaching" for those clients who aren't sure if divorce is right for them and want to first try making informal agreements--not for divorce--but for getting along better in their marriage. 

So now on my intake sheet, potential clients can tell me that they have come in for either (a) Mediation/Divorce Coaching, (b) Mediation/Marriage Coaching or (c) Collaborative, Cooperative or Uncontested Divorce. I have also added a "Divorce Readiness" Section for both husband and wife so that I can find out from each spouse on a scale of 1 to 10--with 1 being "I don't want this divorce at all" and 10 being "I am absolutely positive that divorce is the answer"--how much they each are ready to proceed with divorce.  For those times that both spouses circle low numbers, we can discuss the option of marriage coaching, putting the divorce mediation/divorce coaching on the back burner and working--at least for a short period--towards a stronger, healthier marriage. If it doesn't work out, we can always go back to the marital settlement agreement and parenting plan. And if divorce does happen...we still have a kinder, gentler way. 

Don't get me wrong, I am not a therapist. What I am is a person who believes in the positive and empowering people to do what is truly right for them. Furthermore, it is easier to succeed at doing what you love than doing what you hate. I am really good at motivating and inspiring people and helping them see the possibilities where they thought that all was lost.  That is what I now do in my practice. I love what I do and I love my clients. I have actually found happiness and purpose with a law degree.

Now, this is my example of how I've changed my practice to better suit my own vision of myself. Enough about me. Let's talk about you: 

My challenge to you is to think about what it is that you love to do and to analyze the choices you have made for you life. Are you happy in your practice? Do you have the kind of time you want and need to be healthy? Do you have the amount of balance in your life that makes sense for you? Are you using all of your gifts and talents in your practice? Are you finding meaning and purpose in your work? Are you answering your call?  I submit that if you are smart enough to have made it through law school and to have passed the bar, then you are capable enough to find more happiness for yourself in your practice. Don't be afraid to go down that path less traveled and pave a new way of doing things that fits with your vision of yourself and who you want to be.  You might try working with an executive coach or joining a program that specializes in helping lawyers unlock their potential for happiness and success. I've recently met a Florida attorney, Sonia Gallagher, JD, who is an executive life coachspecializing in helping lawyers with her company, Time for Life, LLC. Ms. Gallagher has created a Success Roundtable Program for Lawyers (see to help them be more happy and successful in their careers. I know there are others out there worth exploring as well.

What's the bottom line? There are many legal professionals out there actually enjoying what they do. If you are not one of them, you have the power to change that. 

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