When a young partner comes to me wanting to change law firms, among other things, I ask:

  • What is the most important thing you want to accomplish in your career?
  • Why is accomplishing it important to you?

Years ago, a lawyer I was coaching was struggling with developing specific actions in his plan. He asked me to help him.

I told him he was going at it backwards. You and he will have a difficult time figuring out how if you haven’t figured out what and why.

I know I am not the first person to use these words, but I have always found them incredibly powerful and inspirational. If you can figure out the WHAT, and you know the WHY you will creatively figure out the HOW.
Have you figured out WHAT you want to become both as a lawyer and in your personal life? Do you know WHY it is important to you? If so, let your creative mind come up with HOW to achieve it.
Want more thoughts on this subject? Check out the Fast Company post: 5 Career Questions To Ask Yourself Instead Of, “What’s My Passion?”

A lawyer I coach recently asked  how I could possibly leave a secure, successful law practice in a large firm to go out on my own to coach, mentor, and help lawyers. i told her that Nancy had asked me the very same question when I told her in 2004 thatI planned to make the change.

It was a logical question for the lawyer and for Nancy given that my construction law practice was thriving, my clients were happy, my last trial resulted in a a great result. I loved practicing construction law and I loved my clients.

Simply put, I discovered when I worked with lawyers in my old law firm that helping those lawyers achieve success and fulfillment was the intersection of my passion and talent. It also fulfilled a need. I lawyers I worked with appreciated the help I gave them. Finally, it was a new challenge. Long ago I discovered that I easily got bored doing things I had done many times before. While my law practice energized me, and I loved working with my favorite clients, I was even more energized by my efforts to help young lawyers and I felt I was making a greater contribution.

What does my career change mean to you? I believe it is important to find your passion, talent and a client need. The lawyers I coach who are most successful have found that sweet spot. I saw a quote on Twitter this morning that brought the point home to me: 

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you’ll be successful.” ~ Herman Cain

Many of you are like me in that you went to law school with the idea that as a lawyer you would be able to help people and make a difference in your community. Then you started your law practice with a firm and rarely have the feeling that you are actually helping people and making a difference in your community. So you look for non-billable ways to get involved.

Recently I had a coaching session with Matt Siegel, a Cozen O’Connor attorney. He was recently named to the Board of the Philadelphia Support Center for Child Advocates. Every time Matt talks about his work with the support center I can hear the passion in his voice. Matt and other members of his firm represent abused and neglected children in Philadelphia.

During the last two years I have experienced the joy of speaking at career day at the school where my daughter Jill teaches. It is one of my favorite experiences.  I have spoken to  3rd and 4th grade classes, competing with the fireman who brought trucks. Instead of anything they could climb on, my tools were an iPhone and AirMac computer. Each year the students thought those tools were pretty cool.
Last year, I decided to teach them about contracts. I brought eight books and asked who wanted to enter into a contract with me to get one of the books. To my surprise, every student in the first class raised a hand. Before the day was over, I committed to buy 90 additional books. This year I told them about The Rule of Law using some of the materials available at the Virginia Bar Association Rule of Law Project. You might remember my blog Service Idea for Your Bar Association where I discussed how Michael Pace’s passion to help middle school students understand the importance of the rule of law had played an instrumental part in getting the project off the ground.
If you do not feel your billable time is helping people or making a difference in your community, think about what you are most passionate about and then get involved.