Before the November edition of the ABA Journal gets tossed out with the trash, take a look at Steven Keeva’s article “Whose Voice Is It Anyway? Don’t Let the Legal Culture’s Negative Message Influence the Way You Practice” (Nov. 24, 2003). [update: I can no longer find that article online, but many of the concepts are also included in Keeva’s piece “Practicing Your Passion,” GPSolo Magazine” (July/August 2005] The article goes to the core of a lot of issues we’ve been discussing on this site (e.g., here and there), and that are an important part of Scheherazade Fowler‘s ongoing conversation at Stay of Execution on issues such as lawyer unhappiness and snobbery.
Keeva, who wrote the respected book Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life (1999), starts with the observation that “Some of the attitudes and behaviors that pass for normal in the legal culture these days are less than conducive to living a balanced, satisfying professional life.” As examples, he cites the notion that “pretty much anything is acceptable in the service of zealous advocacy” and the message that lawyers who are not “doing ‘prestigious’ corporate work in big-city law firms—are, per se, wanting.” Keeva also states that:
Recent research demonstrates how a majority of first-year students who come to school with an inner motivational focus—that is, a desire to help others, make the world a better place and so on—move rather rapidly to an external focus, such as earning a lot of money or impressing others. Such shifts typically coincide with plummeting levels of well-being, according to the study by professors Kennon Sheldon of the University of Missouri-Columbia and Lawrence Krieger of the Florida State University College of Law.[The study was published in Behavioral Sciences and Law, and may be viewed here.]
In this article, Keeva suggests ways to explore the values that currently underlie how you view yourself as a lawyer, and view your clients (see this piece, too), other lawyers, and what it takes to thrive in the legal profession (and life). He then helps you to discover the source of those values and decide whether you want to keep them and let them direct how you practice law. Investing some time in such contemplation seems very likely, I believe, to lead to happier lawyers with more satisfied clients. Of course, the ramifications for our society of having truly joyful lawyers — satisfied with their profession and lives — is truly staggering.