Simon is buckling under the pressure of an endless stream of emails, messages, and calls from disgruntled clients. Simon’s thoughts race. He worries about missing something important, and he second-guesses the decisions he made on a recent file. As his anxiety level rises, he wonders, “do I need to leave legal practice?”
Simon is not alone. You likely have experienced this too. The mental health challenges legal professionals face all point to one question: Is there not a better way of practicing law?
And the answer is, yes, there is.
Transforming the practice of law is crucial. It is simply about finding ways to do legal practice better so that lawyers can flourish in law and life.
There is so much that is within the ability of lawyers to control or influence.
Here are some coaching questions to inspire your thinking about opportunities for bettering your law practice:
- What are the values you wish to align with? Getting clear on values helps provide a foundation for decision-making and provides clarity for setting priorities. For example, do you put up with the managing partner who bullies colleagues, or do you make a move to a firm where this behavior is not tolerated?
- What is meaningful to you about your work? What parts of your work most engage you? What would help give you more time for those activities?
- The Penn University’s Positive Psychology Centre defines engagement as “an experience in which someone fully deploys their skills, strengths, and attention for a challenging task. According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this produces an experience called “flow” that is so gratifying that people are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what they will get out of it. The activity is its own reward.” (https://ppc.sas.upenn.edu/learn-more/perma-theory-well-being-and-perma-workshops)
- How are you making life harder for yourself? What “shoulds” could you let go to open up capacity for your priorities? Transforming law is, in part, an inside job. It begins within each lawyer. Shifts in thinking, beliefs, and mindset open up possibilities for transformation.
- When do you need to say No to say Yes to your priorities and commitments? This question points to some inner contemplation followed by outward action and leads naturally to the next question.
- What are the boundaries you want to set to protect your time for (a) focused work (b) for priorities (c) for life outside of law? How do you need to communicate these? How can you reinforce these?
- What systems and processes might you implement to strengthen boundaries and streamline administrative tasks, communication, and other aspects of your practice? Consider email templates, checklists, training videos for new lawyers/staff, and forms.
- What can you delegate or outsource? What can be sent out for others to do? One small firm I know has outsourced many of the steps required to close files resulting in enormous efficiencies for the firm and eliminating a backlog of files to be closed.
- What technologies are available for streamlining communications between lawyers on your files and with your clients? In my coaching practice, I use a project management platform (BaseCamp) for collaborating with my team.Most of the communication around the many projects I have on the go is now streamlined in BaseCamp. I have had a significant decrease in email since using BaseCamp. This is possible in law as well. CLIO and Cosmolex, and other cloud-based systems offer secure messaging and collaboration tools.
- How can you better onboard clients, so they are clear on what to expect from you (the team, the firm) and what you expect from them in all aspects of the lawyer-client relationship? What forms of communication could you use for client onboarding in addition to the retainer agreement? There is a lot of room for innovation in client onboarding. Transforming legal practice includes new and improved workflows between lawyers and clients, and onboarding is essential for implementing these.
- What new roles might you add to your team or firm? How can you create new roles at your firm to handle workflow and free up senior lawyers to focus on complex legal work and ensure juniors receive the support and training they need to build their skills? If you are creating an enhanced onboarding experience, is there a role for a support team member to administer the process? If you adopt a project management tool and want clients to use the secure messaging feature, perhaps you can create a role for a support team member to help train clients in the technology and provide help desk support when they run into challenges.
These are just a few examples of areas for focus. Look to your current pain points and bottlenecks as the starting point for introducing new strategies or practices.
Transforming legal practice means breaking free from the constraints of “this is how it has always been done” to find better ways of practicing law and serving clients. It is both an inside job of breaking through old thinking patterns and asking the question, “how do we do this better.” The starting point is always where you or your firm are experiencing the most significant challenges.