Around 90% of the guests on the podcast chose to study law because they were good at English. Rare is the guest who studied law because they wanted the skills to do particular justice-related work, or the guest who thought being a lawyer looked like fun. (I say that with the caveat that for many of the people at law school with me Boston Legal had a lot to answer for.)
In the case of my guests, things worked out very well. By some stroke of luck studying law because they were good at English led them to careers that were fulfilling, lucrative, meaningful and enjoyable. They practise in all sorts of ways in all areas of law. This is good, and not only because I started the podcast to show all the different ways one could find joy and enjoyment in law.
But sometimes I wonder if my representation on the podcast is a little off, since in the real world I have met many disenchanted lawyers who do not enjoy their day to day life, yet feel no strong impetus to remake their lives differently.
There are lots of reasons for this, but a big one is that I don’t think it occurs to a lot of them that enjoying their day to day life could be a priority.
That makes sense, when you think about it. The types to go to law school are generally high achievers, who work hard and seek good grades. When you live your adolescent and young adult life like that, it can become a default way into adulthood. You may never stop to ask whether you enjoy the process, because you have a new goal to reach, and secretly you suspect that life is really supposed to be about toil. I certainly thought for a long time that wanting to be happy was a bit rude.
It may just be me, with my Catholic upbringing. Catholics are big on hard work, and earning your way to redemption. (As Mike Birbiglia says, when you’re a Catholic child you learn that there’s this great guy called Jesus, and he died, and it’s not entirely your fault.) But I’ve met too many lawyers who prioritise toil over how it feels to live their lives to believe that it’s limited to Catholics.
The common protest to this line of thinking is that we can’t all be hedonistic pleasure people chasing dreams and passions. It’s a dumb protest. Partly that is because if there is a big dream you know you have it probably is worth chasing, assuming you have the capacity to work for it. But more so, it’s a dumb protest because it’s based in all-or-nothing thinking, and as you all know, we don’t do that around here.
My proposal is not extreme. It is merely that we have a little balance in our decision-making about our careers. And I say this to you, law student reader, because you end law school at a crossroads.
Being a student, and then a new graduate, is one of the most crossroad-iest places in the whole of life. It’s not that the decisions you make about your path at that point are irreversible, just that they set you up in big ways. If the decisions about how to live your life are rocks of different sizes, the choices you make about your study and career are boulders. They are anchoring forces and harder to move. Depending on the decisions you make, your resulting rock sculpture can look any number of different ways. All are totally valid, but you might find some nicer to look at than others.
What I wish for all people at crossroads, assuming a certain level of capacity and the availability of options, is to allow overall life enjoyment to be a pretty big factor in your decision-making.
I wish this partly because life is short for all humans, and if you’re in the habit of shifting your goalposts you risk never actually get to the bit where you enjoy your life (sometimes, as in my case, it dwindles away to nothing from non-use, and you have to grow it back to life through the repeated application of dog pats and musical theatre). I also wish this partly because well-being requires a certain level of day-to-day enjoyment, and if you choose a path likely to bring you some, you might experience less negative stress, and so be happier and healthier overall.
It comes down to this: when making decisions that will affect your macro joy (decisions like jobs, career directions, relationships, or where and how you might live), don’t make the mistake of leaving joy out as a factor. It is ok to turn away from options where you think enjoyment will be totally absent, and it is ok to invite in more options that you might enjoy day to day, even if they are less lucrative or prestigious. Remember that you know yourself best, and your future self is counting on you.
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Katie Cowan is a former commercial litigator who now runs a legal consulting and coaching practice, as well as writing for the Law Society’s “Law Talk” magazine and presenting her own podcast, The New Lawyer, available at thenewlawyer.co.nz. Check out her website for more details at: symphonylaw.co.nz. Katie’s recommendations and opinions are her own, do not represent the views of LexisNexis or its affiliates and are of a general nature. None of Katie, Symphony Law Limited or LexisNexis are responsible for any loss or damage suffered by a party as the result of following this advice, so please seek independent professional advice before relying on it. Please click here for full website terms and conditions.
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