Six strategies lawyers can use to increase their happiness and quality of life, reduce stress, and become more effective, efficient, and respected.
By James Gray Robinson, Consultant and Speaker
The practice of law has always been one of the most politically-active professions. There have been nine presidents with law degrees, and sixteen presidents that were self-taught or apprenticed lawyers. Since World War II, there have been 5 lawyers who held the office: Franklin Roosevelt (1933-1945), Richard Nixon (1969-1974), Gerald Ford (1974-1977, Bill Clinton (1993-2001), and Barack Obama (2009-2017). Out of those five, one went through impeachment proceedings (Clinton), one resigned rather than be impeached (Nixon) and the others have been accused of various and sundry immoral or illegal deeds while in office. On smaller stages like Congress, state political officials, or political appointees, dozens of lawyers have been convicted of a wide range of federal crimes or resigned in disgrace. This does not even address political candidates who have law degrees.
When I became a lawyer in 1978, I took an oath to support the Constitution of the United States, to be faithful and bear allegiance to my state, and to the Constitutional powers which are or may be established for the government thereof, to support, maintain and defend the Constitution and laws of my state and to truly and honestly demean myself in the practice of an attorney. In other words, I swore to be a moral standard for my community and behave myself to the highest standards of conduct. I have been wondering why these principles seem to evaporate as lawyers climb the political ladder. If anyone is thinking “Why focus on the bad apples?” – the bad apples are the suckers on the top of the plant that steal our reputation, our sense of self, and hold lawyers up to public ridicule.
I have spent the last 12 years of my life studying with spiritual leaders, philosophers and experts in emotional and mental health to find strategies that I could share with lawyers to raise the quality of their life, reduce stress, and promote their welfare. In contemplating the troubles that lawyers have created in political office, there are some principles which I fear lawyers forget when they strive to achieve high political office. It is not enough to straddle the line of what you can get away with – lawyers have to do better.
1. Remember that Lawyers are First and Foremost Servants
Lawyers focus too much on winning and losing. There is an arrogance that comes with being successful and sometimes lawyers feel that their position and reputation will protect them from any misconduct. The problem is that lawyers are seduced with the results of their efforts and start to believe that they are above the law. On the other side of the coin, many lawyers become stressed and depressed because they don’t win the cases they take or they don’t get the results that they desire to become successful. The latter is particularly destructive because then the ends start to justify the means. When people forget is that they are providing a service – and that it has to be provided above reproach – then pride and greed start to appear. As we know, “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”
2. Gratitude is Required
If there is any theme that is consistently running through the downfall of all of the politician/lawyers it is a lack of gratitude. The people who violated the law to acquire power, sex, or bribes obviously forgot to be grateful for the incredible opportunity they had to help their constituents. For all of the lawyers who feel depressed, stressed and rejected in their practice, where is your gratitude? Gratitude is an incredible emotional force that will change your mind, lift your spirits and put the wind at your back. Lawyers sometimes forget how lucky they are. I know that from time to time as I sank into despair I had forgotten to be grateful for all of the blessings I had received to become a lawyer. No one told me it would be easy, and no one told me that I wouldn’t lose cases. If I had focused on being grateful, and serving my clients, my path may have been far different.
3. Seek Balance
I suspect that I am OCD, and that probably helped me in my legal practice. However, for those who seek political power or just lawyers who are trying to keep all of the plates in the air, it is critical that professional, personal, and spiritual lives be kept in balance. If you belong to a religion, then be the best worshipper in that religion. If you meditate, meditate consistently every day to quiet your mind and allow your inner goodness to show through. When lives get unbalanced, people forget that the rules apply to them too.
4. We Are All in This Together
There is an observation that when people see a man beating a horse in the west, they stop him from beating the horse for the horse’s sake. In the east, they stop him from beating the horse for the man’s sake. It seems that election or reelection justifies everything from dishonest campaign slurs to fabrication to sway public opinion. In a day to day legal practice, do you focus on how to beat your opponent or do you focus on doing the best, ethical, and professional job you can for your client? There is not much difference between political misconduct and misleading advocacy. Either one will cause untold stress and suffering at the end of the day. Lawyers have to focus on how to do something ethically and morally because they are lawyers, not just because it is the right thing to do. It is not us against them, it is all about how we treat each other.
5. Be Kind
It surprises people these days when lawyers are so professional that they are actually kind. Either through reputation or marketing many lawyers feel that they have to be the meanest son of a bitch in the valley. I had many decades dealing with lawyers who hid evidence, focused on disingenuous arguments and sought to make the litigation process like retreats from the Russian tundra. It left a stench in the air for the litigants and regardless of the outcome, the public’s distrust of lawyers increased. Kindness is one of the most powerful tools at a lawyer’s command, if for no other reason than it is unexpected. Kindness does not mean not advocating for your client, but it means having compassion for all of the parties involved, including yourself. Many people view kindness as a sign of weakness, but nothing could be further from the truth. Be courteous, be gracious, be compassionate, be kind. When lawyers put these principles into practice, their lives change for the better.
6. Be Aware of Your Motivation
Lawyers have always been leaders, volunteers, and our social conscience. Whether they like it or not, eyes are upon them. Lawyers have to do it better, and should do it better. Some lawyers become lawyers to do good, others become lawyers to be rich and powerful. I became a lawyer to please my parents. The reason people act is more important than the action. The ends do not justify the means. If lawyers wish to be not only successful but wise and fulfilled, motivation is the key.
These are certainly not all of the strategies lawyers can use to be effective, happy, efficient, and respected, but there is not enough space for everything in this article. Whether you are a lawyer in private practice or a lawyer in politics, remember the oath that you took to become a lawyer. All you need to know is right there. Some people believe that spirituality is something separate from daily life, but in truth, spirituality is necessary for daily life. When you bring spirituality into your life, your life will change for the better.
James Gray Robinson was a third generation trial attorney, specializing in family law, for 27 years in his native North Carolina up until 2004. Since then he has become an individual and business consultant who works with a wide range of people, professional organizations, and leading corporations. You can learn more about his work by visiting www.JamesGrayRobinson.com
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