How to Better Understand What Motivates You as a Lawyer

Practicing within the legal profession is oftentimes stressful, uninspired, and rigid.  And sadly, many of us feel unfulfilled by our work or unsupported by our workplace. How did we get here?

There likely isn’t just one answer to this question.  There are many contributing factors. A few examples include the dreaded billable hour dictating law firm associate and partners’ lives, our outdated ethics rules artificially restraining the market and limiting opportunities for lawyers to connect with legal consumers and build more holistic and/or sustainable practices with other professionals, and the stress that comes along with the responsibility of representing clients.  A lot of these factors are out of our control . . . or are they? What if one of the biggest contributing factors – our motivation, or lack thereof – is one we have complete control over?

Reconnect with your motivation

Take a minute and transport yourself back to your law school days.  What motivated you to take the LSAT and apply for law school in the first place?  Are you currently doing work that is aligned with that motivation? Now come back to the present – what makes you get out of bed every morning?  Is the work you’re doing and the environment in which you are doing it aligning with that motivation? Understanding your motivation and then building an intentional career aligned with it will lead you to a happier, more fulfilling life.  And it’s 100% within your control!

Your motivation can be anything!  It just has to be meaningful to you.  My motivation, or purpose as some call it, is to help level the playing field for Americans so they can have a fair shot at living the life they desire.  It drives almost everything that I do, from where I work, to how I consume products and services, to my charitable giving.  

Your purpose or motivation might be completely different, and that’s totally cool!  Perhaps your purpose is to be the best trial attorney in the city, be the best parent you can be, or eliminate gun violence (yes, these are all very different!).  All of these are worthy motivations so long as they’re the reason you get out of bed every morning.

Sadly, many of us have lost sight of our motivation and ended up doing work or working in environments that are not aligned with or supportive of it.  There could be many logical reasons for this. Perhaps you needed to pay off student loans so you took a high paying job at a firm doing work that doesn’t interest you.  Perhaps you graduated in 2009 like me and took a job that you wouldn’t otherwise have taken but felt fortunate to have because it was a totally shit time . . . and then you stayed.  Perhaps you decided to start a family and needed good health insurance. There are of perfectly logical and acceptable reasons for chucking your motivation to the side of the road, but now it’s time to pick that motivation back up and reconnect with it.

Seek out work and a work culture that align with and support your motivation.

Now that you’ve retrieved your motivation from the ditch, it’s time to seek out work and a work culture that aligns with and supports it.  Let’s start with the work part. If you wake up every morning motivated to help people access affordable legal services (like me), there are many directions you can go.  The most obvious one is to work for a legal aid organization or government entity such as the Public Defender’s Office. There are other, less obvious, examples though, such as starting a socially conscious for-profit law firm or working at a law firm with a robust pro bono program.  

Maybe you’re motivated to be the best trial attorney in your city.  Are you on a path to achieve that goal? If not, there are plenty of firms and government agencies out there where you can gain trial experience, even as a newer attorney.  Or maybe you’re motivated to be the best parent you can be? Or maybe you want both?! Again, does your current work align with your motivation? If the answer is no, start thinking about what types of jobs would.

Let’s move on to work culture, and let me start out by making a very important point, which is that you do not have to compromise work-life balance for work that aligns with your motivation or vice versa!  If you want to help increase access to justice or be the best trial attorney in the city AND be a good parent or have another personal goal (mine right now is to start a business), you can absolutely do both.  Thanks in part to Millenials, who are demanding what many of us have wanted all along (thank you!), you no longer have to choose. It might take a minute to find a place that is the perfect fit, but they’re out there, and more options are slowly popping up every day.

Formulate a plan and take action!

Now that I’ve got you thinking, it’s time to formulate a plan.  Start with your goal – what work aligns with your motivation, what organizations/firms/agencies would support your motivation, and how quickly do you want to make the change?  Be realistic. It’s okay if it takes you a minute to execute your plan. Then break your roadmap down into smaller goals or milestones. For example, maybe some of your milestones are to update your resume, attend events that will get you in the room with the right people, and/or review your personal budget to see how this new work fits in.  Finally, once you’re ready to take the first step, let the universe know of your intention. I know this sounds silly, but I swear it works. The more you act, talk like, and believe you’re making a change, the more opportunities will start finding you.

Need help getting or staying motivated?  We’ve got you covered! Follow us on Linkedin, Facebook and Instagram @onpurposelegal.  We’re always happy to help!