As I concluded a program on planning for New York associates a few years ago I asked for questions. One lawyer asked:
I thought the question was outstanding. I told her I could not define success for her. She, and only she, can define what success means to her and that requires looking inward. I can only define what success means to me.
Some dictionaries define success as the attainment of wealth, power, favor, or eminence. I have watched young lawyers seeking those things become disillusioned, even when they are doing well. When they earn more money, someone else is earning even more. When they become more powerful in their firm, someone else has even greater power. When they are recognized as a great lawyer, someone else gets even greater recognition.
Long ago, I decided that success was continual learning to become the best lawyer I was capable of becoming. I have to confess, I also defined success as being recognized by the industry as the most knowledgeable transportation construction lawyer in the United States.
I also decided that career success means nothing without life fulfillment. For that I wanted to follow my passions. Several years ago, after working with young lawyers in my firm, my passion evolved into coaching, mentoring and teaching highly motivated lawyers. So, in January 2005, I left my successful law practice to work full time with lawyers in the United States and Canada.
Nancy frequently tells me that I cannot retire because I have no real hobbies, and I have very few friends outside of my work. (Spoiler alert: If you have read this far, my spoiler is that unless more law firms ask me to coach lawyers in 2018, I’ll retire at the end of this year.)
In a way she is right. My “hobbies” are not the normal ones. As you may know, I want to learn to speak Spanish, and I want to write novels about lawyers. So, I’ve studied Spanish at home and in Mexico and I’ve taken creative writing courses at one of our local colleges.
I recently finished the novel I’ve been working on since 2014. It is the 10th version and is so different than earlier versions that I am going back to edit those versions for a second novel. My story is about a young lawyer called upon to defend a billionaire Texan who discovers how difficult it is for a rich man to get a fair trial in 2017.
I admit I haven’t really taken time to make many friends outside of my work. Where we play golf, there are several opportunities to play with the other guys during each week. I’ve only played once.
When I practiced law, my clients were my friends and my friends were my clients. They still are my best friends. Over the weekend, Nancy and I visited one of my first clients and his wife and went to the Virginia Tech v. Duke football game.
Now, my friends also include many of the lawyers with whom I have worked over these last few years. Whenever we are in their city, we make a point of visiting them.
I hope the lawyer who asked the question has looked inward to define what success means to her. How about you? Have you thought about how you define success? What are you doing to find fulfillment in your career and life?