Book Review: The Happy Lawyer

This is a picture of where my “office” was yesterday: I’m on retreat, spending lots of time outside reading, writing, and thinking about my business.  Here’s a link to a post I wrote last year describing how you might engage in your own retreat, to review and evaulate how your practice is running and how it might work better.  I highly recommend an annual professional retreat, whether you choose to leave town or just spend a few hours in a closed-door session.

The book you see on yesterday’s “desk” is The Happy Lawyer by Larry Schreiter.  I’d been wanting to read it because of its description, “How to gain more satisfaction, suffer less stress, and enjoy higher earnings in your law practice.”  Who doesn’t want that?  The book is a quick 188-page read, full of exercises to help clarify the practice and the clients that will allow you to create a satisfying practice.  It then continues with suggestions on how to create that practice once you’ve identified it, how to attract the clients who will appreciate your efforts, and how to engage in a happy practice.  The bottom line is not terribly surprising, though I like the way it’s presented: to be a happy lawyer, figure out what you like about practice and then find ways to get more of that.

The exercises are the backbone of the book: there’s little point in purchasing this book unless you intend to complete  them.  Certain key concepts are identified, such as finding the “Seeds of Satisfaction,” “YES! Clients,” and “Arena of Preeminence,” but since every lawyer will find different parts of practice satisfying, different kinds of clients fulfilling, and different areas of expertise appealing, there are no shortcuts to the answers.  If you’ve ever considered coaching to support your developing a satisfying practice, this book is a nice middle ground.  Similarly, if you’ve purchased this or a similar book and not done the exercises (which are important, but not urgent), you might consider engaging a coach to help provide accountability and reflection so you can get to your answers.

Communications trouble? Maybe it’s you!

I’m pleased to share  an article written by Annetta Wilson, one of the communications experts who will be leading the upcoming teleseminar Cut Through Communications Chaos.  Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a colleague or client only to discover that you’re talking at cross-purposes, with no middle ground you can find?  Read on…

Maybe They’re Not Crazy:  Maybe It Is YOU!


Not quite the headline you expected in an article about communication, is it? 

Okay, it’s a little misleading.  Sometimes, though, when we’re in a conversation that’s going in circles and getting nowhere, it can feel like we’re going crazy. 

Rest assured that you’re not losing your mind (unless, of course, you’ve been officially diagnosed).  It’s possible that you simply don’t recognize the other person’s communication style or know how to adapt to it. 

You have a communication style, too.  Think about your best friend, significant other or someone else in your life that you can talk to for hours and be completely in sync.  That’s not magic, it’s a style match.

There are some ‘magical’ beings out there that almost everyone can relate to.  Then there are the ones you want to run from when you see them coming.  That’s right: mismatched styles.


Before you pull out your label-maker, understand that there are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ styles.  It’s simply a matter of what works in a given situation and what doesn’t.  

In what situation does your particular communication style fit perfectly?

Are you the ‘schmoozer’ who makes everyone feel at ease, even when it’s not YOUR party?

Or are you the ‘bottom line’ person who sees the big picture and puts everything in perspective?

Maybe you’re the ‘magical’ one everyone seeks out for sage advice and is usually the voice of reason.


Then again, you could be the ‘detail’ person who always makes sure that the data checks out, nothing is left to chance and who is happy to leave that ‘people’ stuff to someone else.

All are necessary.  All are different.  And all can be annoying if not put in the right role at the right time or the right setting!


Tip:  The next time you’re tempted to criticize or get upset with someone because they don’t communicate the way you do, ASK them how they prefer to receive information from you.

Detailed information in written form may make some people ecstatic, while others are perfectly fine with a quick verbal overview and just the highlights.

Someone else may need to socialize a bit before they can focus and get down to business.  Allow them that two to three minute window.

Remember to let them know how you want to be communicated with, too.

The point is, if you don’t ASK, you don’t GET.  If you don’t TELL them, everyone’s confused. Clarity beats ‘crazy’ any day!

Asking a simple question like, “What’s the best way to communicate with you?” can eliminate a mountain of aggravation and create untold opportunities to learn something new.  


©2007 Annetta Wilson Media Training and Success Coaching. All rights reserved.

About the Author

Annetta Wilson is a business strategist specializing in media training and presentation skills coaching. A talent coach for CNN, she has also coached for Walt Disney World. She makes it easier for high-profile individuals and teams to communicate more powerfully. Annetta is an award-winning journalist with more than 30 years experience in the broadcast industry, a Certified Trainer and a Certified Professional Behavioral Analyst.  


Visit her Web site at  


Inspiration for those considering a new career; can practice be easier?

One of the curious things about my coaching experience is that the topics that arise (with current and potential clients) seem to move in cycles.  Right now, the top two issues on which I’m coaching are (1) making partner (long-term strategy as well as short-term “beefing up” in preparation for the decision and (2) leaving the law.  For those thinking about leaving practice: the JD Bliss Blog has done some marvelous profiles of lawyers who’ve left the law for other pursuits, and I commend those to anyone who’s considering a move out of practice.  Nice inspiration, in short bites, for anyone wondering what might be next.

Meanwhile, for those committed to staying in practice (or at least not committed to leaving), here’s something for you to consider: can you create a practice that’s any easier for you than it is now?  This weekend, I was gardening (and by that, I mean tending parts of an unruly 1-acre yard) in 97-degree weather.  Adjusted for the high humidity, the heat index topped 107.  It was not fun.  I noticed two tendencies that made my work harder than it had to be, though: I was holding my breath every time I tried to pull out a large weed, and I was drinking a bottle of water only every hour or so.  Nothing would have made the work fun under the circumstances, but when I started breathing better and carried a large water bottle around the yard with me, it started being less unpleasant.  I also stopped yardwork entirely between 11 AM and 6 PM; had I not done that, I doubt I’d ever have been willing to set foot in the state of Maryland again!

What’s the practice analogy?  It’ll vary somewhat for each lawyer, but here are some examples:

**  Use the concepts of full engagement and selective disengagement for better energy management.

**  Make sure your office is arranged for maximum utility (good chair, good light, not cluttered, supplies and resources you need at hand, etc.).

**  Commit to raising your practice skills.

**  Identify the habits or tendencies that are detrimental and figure out how to turn them around.

**  If you goes through your days with a negative attitude, consider whether there’s an alternative.

**  Find mentors who can guide you through practice development, office politics, etc.

Leaving the law: how to start the next chapter

I recently had an opportunity to offer some suggestions to a lawyer who’s ready to leave the practice but uncertain where to start in creating the next chapter of her career.  Since that’s hardly an unusual state of affairs, I thought I’d post my comments here in hopes of helping others in a similar position.

Deciding whether to leave the law and what to do next requires examination of a wide variety of questions.  Some of the questions that I offer clients who are considering leaving practice include the following:

*  What do you want to bring from your legal career into your next career?  Do you want to be in a law-related field that will make specific use of your legal training, or do you want to explore something ocmpletely new?

*  What do you enjoy?  Writing, making presentations, working solo, working with a team, leading, managing, directing, etc.?

*  What are you passionate about?  Would you like to bring that passion into your work?  Another way of asking this is, for the sake of what are you working?

*  What do you want your days to look like?  Is work/life balance a significant consideration for you?  Imagine your ideal work situation and describe what it looks like — and really, you don’t have to know what the work itself would be to do this.  For instance, would you work in an office or from home?  Would you have an assistant?  Would your days be full of meetings?  Would you travel for business?  Would you spend time creating?  Would you spend time performing analyses or developing strategies?

* What has caused you to decide to leave practice?  (There’s often lots of information there, and some of the clients I’ve worked with have discovered that they don’t actually want to leave practice, they just want to change their practice so it fits them better.)

There are so many questions that merit exploration, and these are just a few starters.

I’d also suggest talking with others who’ve left practice and exploring books about career changes for lawyers, such as: The Lawyer’s Career Change Handbook (Hindi Greenberg), What Can You Do With a Law Degree?: A Lawyers’ Guide to Career Alternatives Inside, Outside & Around the Law (Deborah Arron);  Alternative Careers for Lawyers (Hillary Mantis); and Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More (Alan B. Morrison and Diane T. Chin).  (Sorry, no links this morning, but you can find all of these on Amazon.)

You might also consider whether coaching could be beneficial.  Coaching is a useful way to discover what will work best for you given your skills and talents, your desires, and your needs.  A coaching relationship also creates a safe space to explore next steps with someone who “gets it” and, perhaps unlike family/colleagues/friends has nothing at risk based on your decisions.

Are you suffering from communications chaos?

Lawyers rely on good communications skills.  Whether it’s in writing or in person, how well a lawyer communicates will have a significant impact on her career success.  We spend a lot of time learning how to make effective, persuasive oral presentations in the context of practice, but what about day-to-day communications?  These examples illustrate the problems that can occur.

**  Adam Associate has just started working with Paula Partner.  Adam is a good lawyer with strong skills, but things just aren’t gelling in his working relationship with Paula.  Last week, Adam put together a memo illustrating some strategic decisions to be made for a client.  The memo reviewed the possibilities and included lots of data and details on each option.  When he gave Paula the memo with its attachments, she looked at it and snapped, “Adam, I need a bottom line.  What’s the game plan here?”  Adam began to review the options so he could give Paula the background necessary to understand his final recommendation, but he could tell she was getting more and more impatient.  Finally he cut his comments short and told her what he thought the client should do.  Paula thanked him, and after Adam left she sat down to do her own quick review of the situation.  A few days later, Adam was surprised to find out that she’d made a recommendation to the client that was a good approach but didn’t make use of the hard work he’d done.  Both Adam and Paula are frustrated, and Adam is wondering whether he’s in line for a negative (and unfair?) review since Paula clearly doesn’t appreciate his precision and thoroughness.

**  Paula recently made a pitch to Clinton Client over lunch, to represent his company in a huge merger.  She delivered clear though somewhat abstract information about her experience and the firm’s capabilities, and she presented him with an action plan that showed how she’d hit the ground running.  She was puzzled that Clinton kept throwing in new ideas that were far outside what she had contemplated, and she was annoyed that Clinton interrupted their conversation several times to speak to friends and acquaintances in the restaurant.  Paula had the feeling that Clinton knew every person who walked through the door and that he was intent on speaking to all of them.  He asked whether Paula or her firm represented any of the movers and shakers in his industry, most of whom he identified as friends.  Although Paula was willing to make a personal connection with Clinton, she wanted to move on to business and was frustrated that Clinton seemed to be more interested in telling stories and drawing analogies rather than sticking to the facts.

**  Adam was having trouble with Sue Secretary.  Although she had terrific skills, Sue always wanted to know more about the work she was doing and seemed to approach Adam’s practice as if she and Adam were a team.  Although Adam appreciated her interest, he didn’t particularly enjoy the “bonding time” of talking about family and personal interests, and he sometimes felt that Sue’s favorite word was “why.”  Sue couldn’t stand the organizational systems that Adam demanded and wondered especially why he needed his files to be identical, with the labels printed in a certain font and arranged according to the system he’d been using since his first year in practice.

Do these situations sound at all familiar?  Have you ever found yourself wondering why someone behaves they way they do or wished you could predict how they might respond to a situation?  I’ve been using an assessment known as the DISC with clients for over a year now to help explain and eliminate these communications problems.  DISC measures the extent to which you exhibit behavior and communication styles known as Dominant, Influencing, Steady, or Compliant.  Once you know your own style, it becomes easy to recognize other people’s styles, and that allows you to adjust your own style for maximum effectiveness in communications.  You can learn more about the DISC here, here, and here.


Saying “NO.”

Almost all of my coaching clients have said at one time or another, “I just don’t know how to say no.”  Whether it’s an associate or partner who’s so overburdened that she’s having trouble meeting her deadlines and/or producing an acceptable work product, a lawyer who’s bemoaning a difficult client and wrestling with how to screen clients in the future, or a lawyer who wants to establish strong boundaries to prevent his work from overruning his personal life, saying “no” emerges as a key skill.  But especially for lawyers in private practice, “no” can feel like blasphemy.

Often, part of our coaching work is to reframe what “no” means.  For instance, saying no to additional work when your plate is already full to overflowing is actually saying yes to the question, “Shall I meet my current deadlines and deliver a good product?”  Saying no to a client who’s clearly going to be troublesome (perhaps expecting unreasonable results, challenging every item on a legitimate bill, or being just plain nasty) means saying yes to reserving your time and energy for clients you can help who will faciliate and appreciate that service.  And saying no to work-related demands that burden personal time is critical for the selective disengagement that allows full professional engagement at the appropriate times.

The underlying step that makes this reframing possible is knowing what you want.  These examples are fairly simple, but clients of course face more challenging situations, such as taking on time-consuming work that will be demanding and draining but will give the lawyer an opportunity to shine within the firm and with clients.  When that’s weighed against a long-awaited vacation or even serving more routine client needs, the lawyer needs to know where her priorities are given all of the circumstances.  Billing heavily everyday for a month takes on different meanings at the beginning of a job, during an emergency situation, and during times of ordinary workflow.  Knowing where to set the boundary is critical to knowing whether a request oversteps that boundary.

Are you facing a situation in which you should say no?  What will you say yes to instead?

Conscious disregard of value: women vs. the legal profession

One of the things I most enjoy about the blogosphere is the free exchange of ideas and thoughts.  Recently, Stephanie West Allen and I have been discussing a trend reported by Canada’s leading newspaper The Globe and Mail in an article entitled “Office Stress Ruining Women Lawyers’ Lives.”  (With thanks to Gerry Riskin of Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, who offers his commentary.)  From the article: “Women at modern-day law firms are so petrified of appearing unproductive that they sometimes conceal cancer or heart attacks to avoid being marginalized.”  Stephanie’s comment on this trend is, “I find the behavior of the women who would hide serious health problems to be extremely puzzling, almost bizarre. Think of the statement that makes about their values. Why would they make such a trade-off? What is so important? Are we seeing zombies at law?”

I too find the reported concealment bizarre, though I would pin it as knowing, intentional disregard of one’s own value for the sake of… And then I can’t quite finish the sentence.  For the sake of looking sufficiently productive?  For the sake of being a “team player”?  For the sake of keeping a job that demands unrealistic sacrifices?  What job or profession could possibly merit the concealment of a serious illness?

The law has long rewarded “macho” behavior: working punishing hours, dropping everything to serve a client, exhibiting a mental and emotional toughness that’s impenetrable on the job — all without complaint.  Although commentators often focus on the challenges that women face in confronting those expectations, I find that a number of men are equally displeased about the sacrifices demanded.  Indeed, Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin of the Surpeme Court of Canada made the observation that, “The strict, inflexible business model is increasingly questioned by men. . . [the question for the future is] How do we structure the way lawyers — women and men – work; the way they live, the way they serve the public?”

While women face a more challenging uphill climb in some ways, as marked by the often-repeated statistic that on 17% of partners in large law firms are women, I find myself wondering whether we’re in a phase similar to one that existed before women were permitted to vote, in which women struggle to achieve “equality” acting in the context of  an underlying social sense that women will bring “civility” to the system, only to find that women are indeed as tough as men, though perhaps that toughness is expressed differently.

At the end of the day, the questions we need to ask about the profession are gender neutral, though we must also recognize that women of childbearing age face an extra layer of complexity.

Readers, are you aware of lawyers (of either gender) concealing serious illness to “avoid being marginalized”?  I welcome your comments.

Top firms for women or leaving the law: it’s all about perceived satisfaction

As announced in a flurry of law firm press releases yesterday, Working Mother Magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC have announced the top 50 firms for women, as measured through “groundbreaking programs to help women strike a better work/life balance and climb to the top” and “implementing penalty-free flex schedules and mentoring, networking and leadership programs.”  Large firms are heavily represented, and I’m curious whether that reflects their success with these programs or whether it reflects the presence of the programs.  Would a smaller firm that promotes work/life balance as a matter of course but doesn’t feature woman-friendly programs come out well on the survey?  This inquiring mind is curious.

Meanwhile, a recent article in Toronto Life magazine describes one lawyer’s exit from the practice and touches on the variety of issues that lead lawyers to choose new careers.  Replace the names of top Canadian firms with American firms, and it becomes clear that the problems so many identify are a cross-border phenomenon.  The author paints a rather bleak picture of the profession, laying the blame on “the crush of billable hours and the constantly buzzing BlackBerry,” which have in turn destroyed intellectualism, civility, mentoring, and work/life balance.  It’s a painful (but important) article to read.

Are lawyers unhappy?  Sure, some are.  And some aren’t.  Before deciding anything about the state of the profession (or the morale of its lawyers) it’s important to step back and ask what’s behind the pain and the pleasure of practice.  What do you expect to see when you think about practicing law?  Or, to put it another way, what happens when you remove the rose- or smoke-colored glasses?

Back to the real world: how do you return from vacation?

By the time this posts, I will likely have landed back at the Atlanta airport, home from vacation and from the ABA annual meeting.  First, I’d like to thank Peter Vajda publicly for his posts.  Relationship is always an interesting topic, and I believe that in many ways our relationships shape and promote or inhibit professional success.  Especially since I’m a married lawyer as well as married to a lawyer, I’ve found Peter’s posts thought-provoking, and I hope others have as well.

Next, a plug for bar activities.  Most of my time at the annual meeting was engaged in business meetings, and I’ve been exposed to a variety of legal issues far outside my area of expertise — robotics and their legal issues, e-privacy issues, VOIP, so on and so forth.  And I had wonderful conversations about the future of the profession, the roles of maturing lawyers, and more.  If I’d had a realtime brain scan going, I’m sure my neurons would have been firing in neon colors!  It’s intellectually stimulating in a way that will enliven me for weeks to come.  Moreover, I met and reconnected with people from a wide variety of backgrounds, and it was a delightful time for both professional and social networking.  It’s a terrific way to spend some time, and it represents a marvelous opportunity for professional development and perhaps business development.

As I anticipate returning from my vacation, I’m thinking about what I can do to hit the ground running and maintain (at least to some degree) my relaxed state of mind.  Here are my favorite tips:

1.  Set a time to plan my “return to work” activities, and don’t anticipate that time.  I’ve found that one of the quickest vacation mood-killers is thinking and planning what I’ll do when I get back, which has the effect of accelerating my return.  I’ll spend about an hour tomorrow while I’m waiting to board my flight setting my “to do” list, but aside from that (and writing this post) I won’t do any work until I return to the office Monday morning.

2.  Plan a “vacation recall” signal.  Have you ever felt that the relaxation from vacation fades all too quickly?  I discovered that choosing something that reminds me of a pleasant time on vacation lets me hit a reset button and recall that pleasure.  I’ve set up a screensaver that will show some of my vacation photos, selected specifically to bring me back to a dusky moment, just past sunset, watching the last ray of the sun slip away from the California coast.  Bingo — I see it, and I’m there.  (The photo at the top of this post is one example.)

3.  Arrange my first few days back so I hit the most important, hardest tasks first.  This is a practice I follow on a regular basis, but I find it even more important when returning from vacation.  This lets me reap the full benefit of my energy on being back in the office, and I get quick rewards.

4.  Plan something to look forward to in the first few days back.  It’s easy to get sucked back into the flurry of work, to start feeling stressed, and to see the next few weeks or months as a long, grey tunnel with no escape until it’s vacation time again — or, worse yet, to think that taking time off was a mistake because of the necessary catching up that follows.  To counteract that, I plan something to look forward to no later than the first weekend back.

5.  Set SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, time-based) goals.  The to-do list that I generate as a part of tip #1 above will set out precisely what I can realistically expect to accomplish, based on the urgent/important method of prioritization.  This level of specificity and realism gives me a concrete and feasible goal, and that keeps me on target; making sure that I’m attending to the important tasks first guarantees that my time will be well-spent.

I’ll share pre-vacation tips soon, too, because (as is surely no surprise) front-end planning facilitates the return as well.  Meanwhile, readers, any good tips that help you ensure a successful return from vacation?

Dare To Dream, Gridlock and the Two-Professional Couple

Children, no children. Be social, stay at home. Go to church, be an atheist. Spend large sums on a rental home, invest the money.


Gridlock is part of the fabric of being a couple, especially a two-professional couple where time is a premium and consistent dialogue about personal issues is not very common. However, ending gridlock does not have to mean “coping” with the impossible.  Confronting gridlock is not about “solving a problem, it’s about dialogue. Two-professional couples in healthy, conscious relationships can live with gridlock when they choose to understand the nature of gridlock and dialogue about the root cause of gridlock.

Gridlock is, “having dreams that are not seen, heard, respected or addressed by one’s partner.” Dreams can be hopes, visions, aspirations and wishes that define you and give purpose and meaning to you life. Dreams can be practical (make “x” amount of money); others are deeper (a spiritual journey).

Some of the dreams of couples I’ve coached are: a sense of freedom; justice; honor; having a sense of power; exploring one’s creative side; being forgiven; having a sense of order; being more organized and productive; being able to relax; finishing a very important project; quietness; ending a chapter of one’s life.

To move toward constructive dialogue, two things must happen. The one with the dream needs to express the meaning, the symbolism that the dream holds for him/her; the other needs to express the meaning, symbolism that causes him/her to reject their partner’s dream.

For example, eating out on Sunday. For one, underneath “the meal” is a memory of feeling special when the family ate out on Sunday nights. For the other, the memory is that of wonderful home-cooked meals on Sunday. So, the issue of eating in or eating out is not about “eating.” For both partners, it’s about what’s underneath the “eating experience” that brings them a feeling of contentment, warmth, emotional security, and feeling loved and cared for.

Where conflict and gridlock enter the scene, however, is when one partner cannot experience their dream and then judges another’s dream (e.g., your wanting to eat out on Sundays when I want to stay home) as bad, wrong, stupid, silly, selfish, ill-thought-out, illogical, and then proceeds to disrespect their partner’s dream. Arguments, shouting, fighting, judging, resenting, or silent anger, silent treatment, or silent defensiveness result. In a word, gridlock.  

Happy and fulfilled partners understand helping the other experience their dream is a shared goal of the relationship — wanting to know what their partner wants in their life. Shared values means incorporating each other’s goals into their definition of relationship. Happy and fulfilled partners discuss one another’s dreams with mutual respect for, and acknowledgement of, one another’s dreams.

Unhappy folks spend time negating, adversely judging, manipulating against and otherwise “tuning out” their partner’s goals. Gridlock, emotional distance and tension ensue. Moreover, when one sees one’s partner as the sole source of “the problem”, one knows one is wrestling with one’s own hidden dream. When one hears oneself saying, “He (or she) is this…” or “He (or she) is that..”, it’s a sign of one’s own hidden dream (i.e., the dream is the root cause of the judgment of the other).

To move forward toward an open, safe trusting, conscious and healthy relationship, it’s critical to uncover the dream underneath the gridlock.  

So, some questions to consider:

Where are you experiencing gridlock in your relationship?
What is the wish, want, dream underneath the gridlock?
Why is this dream meaningful for you?
Why do you feel so strongly about this issue?
What do you want/need from your partner?

Happy couples listen to their partner’s dream story. It does not mean that one partner believes the other’s dream can or should be actualized. However, it does mean that one can honor another’s dream by hearing it without judgment or criticism, and can become part of the partner’s dream in some way, shape or form.

Moving out of gridlock is not about engaging one-hundred percent in your partner’s dream; it’s about honoring that what you partner says is true for them and finding common ground where you can.

So, with respect to your partner’s dreams, are you co-counsel or opposing counsel?

Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching, counseling and facilitating. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter’s coaching approach focuses on personal, business, relational and spiritual coaching. He is a professional speaker and published author. (You can contact Peter directly: pvajda at