Lawyering with Humanity First is a Legal Superpower

ABA Well-Being in Law Week was a good time for a panel discussion centered on the idea of bringing your humanity to your practice of law.

I moderated the panel, with panelists representing various areas of practice and life: Shiau Yen Chin-Dennis, managing partner of the Portland office of K&L Gates; Michele Powers, lawyer and executive coach; and Karin Green, a non-lawyer with an expertise in shadow work.

The panel first discussed what the “humanity” of lawyering is, exactly.  Katy explained that based on her years of experience practicing and coaching lawyers, there is a stale notion in the profession that who we are does not belong in business; that mixing our personal lives with our practice is inappropriate and unprofessional.  This is, in fact, not true.

This line of thinking leaves lawyers with a very difficult task when it comes to branding, marketing, and business development.  They have a harder time attracting business.  This mentality often leaves lawyers feeling isolated and inauthentic, believing wrongly that who they are is not appreciated and welcomed at work.

There is deep value in bringing your whole self to your practice.  In today’s world of disconnection, it is not enough to simply be an excellent technical lawyer.  Being an effective lawyer is more than your substantive work.  The best lawyers know how to lead from their whole selves to connect with clients, co-counsel, the court, and juries.  Allowing yourself to remember the real you, allows you to generate wellness for yourself and your practice.

The panel discussed how the various roles/hats lawyers wear impacts their ability to feel truly well, giving tips on managing all the roles lawyers juggle daily.

The panel also discussed their experience when they brought their whole self to work and compared it to their experience with not bringing their whole self.  The difference they noted was a sense of balance and harmony with the former. The freedom to be your true self is empowering.  Not bringing our whole self to work can lead to burnout, career dissatisfaction, and possible health issues, including lack of proper sleep, nutrition, and disconnection from family and friends.

The panel discussed the idea that the lack of ability to bring our humanity to our careers stems from deep fears rooted in our childhood.  Karin has worked with many lawyers on unearthing this fear and removing it as a block to their success.

The panel noted that this work requires a willingness to be compassionate to yourself and your clients, citing the recent bank failures and clients’ emotions around the catastrophe.  Compassion allows a deeper understanding that we are all humans first and professional service providers second.

The panel also agreed that making these changes requires a certain level of courage and willingness to be different and uncomfortable in the short term in exchange for a career that you are happy with because it invigorates you, represents all of you, and allows you to serve your purpose to society.  Obstacles often include believing this process is not important enough, lack of time and not prioritizing our own well-being.

Panelists offered their best piece of advice for lawyers on this topic – a common thread being to start slow and look inward at who you are and your own “brand.”  Perhaps that requires a therapist or a coach or counselor.  Perhaps that calls for time alone with goal and life planning.

A recording of the panel is available if you missed the original live panel on May 4, 2023.

About the Author 

Katy Goshtasbi is a branding expert and coaches, consults and speaks with lawyers on building revenues by leveraging the lawyer’s brand. Katy practiced securities law for over 14 years and is past chair of the ABA Law Practice Division.

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