Your life is in the toilet. Greeting each weary morning through baggy eyelids, only the specter of the mortgage payment and the kids’ college tuition goads you into what has now become a routine of simply scraping through another week of law practice. What passes for patience is really bored resignation. Twenty years in the trenches have tarnished the brass rings of your legal career.
Painfully aware that skilled factory workers your own age have outpaced you financially, you know they leave their jobs at the plant. Your retirement savings might buy lunch. So much for that promise of respect, fame and lucre that you expected in law school.
One more glowing success story in the ABA Journal about those lawyers who spent your law school years in elementary school and whose income triples yours, or one more CLE brochure touting one-day programs which cost more than you pay for an entire month’s rent, or even one more lawyer-bashing joke just might take you over the edge.
You think you’ve got more in common with Marge Simpson than Alan Dershowitz. Your life is more Dilbert and less Perry Mason.
You weren’t always this weary. You had hope and ambition, and you thought you could change the world. You still can. That world is your own.
How would you practice law if money wasn’t a concern? How would your law practice operate if you just did it for the hell of it? What’s stopping you from living a few of those earnest, naïve and wild-eyed dreams that impelled you to become a lawyer?
Make your fantasies real. You might not be able to chuck it all for pro bono work in Tahiti, and it’s probably not real likely that you can make the overnight leap to legal superstar or celebrity. Just because you can’t have it all doesn’t mean you can’t have a taste. 10% of a dream is better than a life of quiet desperation.
Exhausted and frustrated reality doesn’t slam the door on restoration of your legal psyche. Make some little cheap and easy changes:
1. Move the furniture around. Redecorate your office, surrounding yourself by some of your favorite things: vacation momentos, a Stieff bear, or that Woodstock poster.
2. Study some aspect of law that really interests you, even if it’s totally irrelevant to your current practice. CLE to update skills may be as inspirational as an oil change, but you can learn something new. You’ve drawn upon what you learned in that apparently irrelevant college course in Nicaraguan poetry at the most unexpected times. There’s nothing keeping you from learning about French copyright law, even if it has nothing whatsoever to do with your practice.
3. Volunteer. Not as a lawyer, but as sports referee, soup kitchen worker, or Den Parent. Get out of your lawyer mode and into real life.
4. Take on a case totally out of your current practice area, just because it sounds interesting. You did that all the time back when you didn’t know any better. You’re smarter now, but you’ve allowed cautious responsibility to rein you in.
5. Splurge on that new office toy you’ve always wanted. You can afford it. Quit acting like those lawyers who’ll spend hours shopping for the best deal instead of making up the difference working an extra hour.
6. Do something totally out of character, wild and crazy. Tell a cantankerous judge, obstreperous lawyer or a annoying shifty-eyed client exactly what’s on your mind.
7. Instead of spending your midweek afternoon at Office Depot, do something creative and nonproductive by going to an art gallery or concert.
8. Practice law like you don’t need to worry about making a living. Well, 10% of it. Pretend that you are rich and famous and work only for the pleasure of it. Take one case in your workload and work it as though you were the idealistic superstar lawyer you always wanted to be.
9. Restore your innocence.
10. How many times have you said “Just once, I’d like to.”? Well, why don’t you? You’re big enough, you’re old enough, and doggone it, you’re entitled.
That receding hairline and expanding waistline shouldn’t belie the wild-eyed 23-year old law student lurking in within you. Yesterday’s dreams and fantasies can happen today.