By Katy Goshtasbi
Here are some facts to ponder:
- According to the American Bar Foundation (ABF) After the JD study conducted during years 2000-2012, the general satisfaction level of lawyers after 13 years of practice is 3.92 on a scale of 1 to 5. In my opinion, that’s not good enough. Shouldn’t it be that at year 13 and above, we should all be at least at a 5 and climbing?
- Client satisfaction studies find that talent, quality of legal work and overall experience are “necessary and important” reasons for clients giving lawyers business, but they are NOT the “most valued” reasons by clients to hire lawyers.
- A CNN report found earlier this year that lawyers are 3.6 times more prone to depression than the general population.
- No longer, according to US News & World Reports, is being a lawyer in the top 50 best jobs. In fact, in one year it has dropped from number 35 to number 51.
- According to analysis by Dr. Sylvia Hodges of the first gender study based on $3.4 billion of actual billing, female partners bill 24 minutes per day more than male partners, yet on average work on only 7 percent of larger matters and make up 81 percent of those who work on small matters.
So what is going on, my women lawyer friends? In a competitive legal environment, how are you going to be seen, heard, valued and be compelling in order to thrive as a lawyer and as a human? What’s the plan on keeping your sanity and your family? Are you just too busy to stop and think about it?
My goal with this article is to get all women lawyers to stop and think about these issues and understand they don’t have to resort to actions that don’t resonate with them – just to get ahead and excel as a lawyer. There are simple, rewarding methods to get grounded, centered and be optimal lawyers and happy women- for everyone’s sake.
Lawyers are often seen as phony and thus manipulative. Obviously this is not true for all or most lawyers. But for those for whom it could be more true than not, perhaps they do it because they are numb to the reality of who they really are and their divinity.
As lawyers, we often believe we have to be accomplished and get to the “top,” then we can finally be happy. I know, and work with, many accomplished lawyers who are not happy. So I’ve found that we have it backwards: We first need to be happy, then we can be accomplished professionally.In fact, the ABA Law Practice Magazine had an article on being a good and happy lawyer in its most recent edition.
I was a happy practicing lawyer until I realized that we didn’t have the best image. I became fascinated with this issue and wanted to turn it around for lawyers. I also then realized that my natural gift was in personal brand management – that’s what makes me happy as a human.
Does this notion of being happy first and then being a rainmaker seem preposterous to you? I’m guessing so. Do you know why? I believe it is because you have developed and been conditioned by society (your family, friends, etc.) to THINK this way. In fact, I posit that if as women lawyers, we started being aware of our thoughts; we could then be more in control of all our thoughts and in control of our careers and lives.
The result is ultimate happiness and business success. This sense of control could and should be liberating – you would then have a focal point behind which to put your energy.
To help find the bridge and tools we can utilize to be in control, I recently had the privilege and honor to interview the great Byron Katie (Katie, as she prefers to be called). In brief, Katie believes your thoughts are the cause of your suffering. It was in the late 1980s when Katie experienced this belief first-hand. Katie is a best-selling author of numerous books. She has helped millions of people over the years and continues to do so with her process of self-inquiry called, The Work.
While The Work applies to all people alike, how can it help women lawyers? To answer this question, let me ask another: does the notion of looking at your thoughts seem scary, perhaps? If so, you’re not alone.
Katie has been quoted as saying, “[w]hen we are not fearful, we are unlimited.” I wholeheartedly believe in this.
I believe we could run our legal practices from a whole different place. Capitalism would be so much more effective and kind if, as women lawyers, we felt unlimited and not trapped in fear. This is an abundance mind-set. As I always say, when we know our uniqueness, then there is no competition, but collaboration. Being able to find your uniqueness rests in feeling abundant mentally, fearless and unlimited.
Katie has also found, “[w]hen people take a fearful or rigid stance, they often bring about what they are trying to prevent.” The bottom line is our thoughts lead to our suffering. Katie says that we are all lawyers in our minds, judging others and situations all the time. We always prepare for winning and losing in our minds. We put so much upon ourselves to win and be right and make money.
So our thoughts can be stressful and torture, if we believe them. However, listening to our thoughts and being aware ultimately makes us kinder and less aggressive, and thus aware of possible solutions to our legal practice that we perhaps weren’t aware of before we actually sat still and allowed our own knowledge to flow through and guide us.
In fact, The Work is meditative in application. The problem is that as women lawyers, we are not often open to (nor do we make time for) meditation and sitting still. The practice of law is very much mired in precedence and the past, leaving us trying to follow, sometimes rigidly, the old ways.
As such, sometimes as lawyers we believe anything to do with gaining a greater consciousness (meditation, focusing, breathing, divinity, etc.) is fluff, and has nothing to do with being a rainmaker and getting new clients/increasing revenues.
I believe, and know to be true, that being self-aware/self-realized makes you: 1) a better person: more positive, more grateful and happy AND 2) even a greater force in other areas such as the practice of law/rainmaking.
So I asked Katie, how can we move past our ideals of what it means/should mean to be a successful woman lawyer using The Work, thus trying new methods and being open to methods that may seem like “fluff”? Katie notes that after all, we can’t know for sure that The Work or any other process is fluff without trying it. If we don’t try, then the door is shut to new ways and ideas, and really, creativity as I see it. So Katie’s advice is to stay open to The Work, stating, “[y]ou don’t have to do it now, but there could be a time in your life when you need it and want to do it. …. We hold all the power to make changes in our lives.”
Here’s another reason to try The Work or some other way of growing. I have found through my research that everyone suffers from some sort of self-confidence issue. My research shows that low self-confidence is directly inversely related to high stress. When we have low self-confidence we have a poor personal brand that doesn’t “sell” us.
My research shows that women lawyers often: 1) compare our self to other lawyers (mostly men) 2) feel taken advantage of and 3) feel like impostors, like we don’t belong in this man’s world. All this rings of a low self-confidence issue, which is true for all humans in one way or another.
In one of her books, Katie states that we all have this unspoken belief that unless people approve of us, we are worthless. Katie also says that defending anything is the first act of “war,” or a war-like mental state of aggression. It seems like this is exactly one of our challenges that can hold us back as women lawyers – many times we feel worthless and go into self-defense mode.
So I asked Katie, how can women lawyers apply The Work to not compare, not defend, and to have higher self-confidence?
Katie finds that when we feel low in self-confidence, then that low self-confidence is what we think we have to sell – instead of our legal skills. In that instance, we don’t like ourselves, and we don’t expect others to like us. As a result, we can’t attract and retain clients. If we didn’t defend ourselves and looked at constructive criticism with an open mind, then maybe we’d learn something about ourselves that we may have missed. In that way, we could also connect with another person. Katie holds that every time a person does The Work, they come out as a kinder, caring, enlightened, fearless person, which reeks of high self-confidence because we are on solid ground and we are not defending ourselves to the world.
To add to the issue, as women lawyers, we juggle work, family and friends. In juggling, as stated above we have very high stress, which leads to low self-confidence, and shows up as poor time management. All of this leads to an ineffective personal brand. So I asked Katie about her advice to women lawyers in moments when we find all things are going crazy at work. Specifically, in those moments how should we get centered and notice our thoughts?
Katie states that stress signals a person’s lack of harmony with their world. She encourages us to get still enough to identify what we are thinking or believing. Stop and realize we are right here, right now. This is reality, and what we think and believe about all the other obligations in our day is a choice we make. We can then choose our actions because our mind is clear since we have gotten still and slowed down. Furthermore, Katie says we can only do one thing at a time, but we think we can do a thousand things at once. Getting clear on what to do next is about sitting still. Chaos in our head makes the world look chaotic. The Work is practice for this clarity and growth.
All this is well and good, but how do we make time for new things, such as The Work, in our busy lives as women lawyers? After all, we don’t need to add more stress to our lives.
Katie recommends that we fit The Work in gradually, by perhaps getting up a little bit earlier than the rest of our household each morning, getting quiet and getting still to sort life out. Katie recommends doing so in the early morning because in the mornings our minds are clear before the world bombards us. Even 20 minutes a day helps.
Katie advises that this is not just one more thing on your list – you DO NOT have to do this. But, Katie promises, if you try it, you will have such a shift in your mindset and ability to produce results as a lawyer. I myself am a testament to this process. For years now, I prescribe to “slow start” mornings. I get up early, work out and then spend at least 30 minutes sitting still and focusing inside.
What should you do in the 20 minutes? Katie recommends you close your eyes and contemplate a thought that you have that is stressing you. This will allow you to get clarity on the issue and how you feel and view it. Katie says that doing this will change the way you see everything for the rest of your life. I totally agree, as I have been doing The Work for some time now in addition to my slow morning routine.
Will it be do-able? Well Katie advises that you just try it on with an open mind. Even if it is hard, be gentle and kind to yourself, like we are to our children.
As Katie so eloquently put it, it is all about your own world peace. I agree. I find that it is our job to take care of our peace in this world so we can be of service to our communities as capable and happy women who practice law well.
Lastly, Katie thanks all professional women for being so selfless in our lives. She posits that doing The Work will sharpen our observations and leave us in balance. Who wouldn’t want that?
The full video version should be available through Byron Katie’s website, www.thework.com soon. For inquiries regarding the video, please contact that site.
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