The following is adapted from The New Law Business Model by Ali Katz, New Law Business Model Founder—find it on Amazon.
If you’re one of the many lawyers who is struggling and unhappy with your current work, you're probably dreaming about how to transform your law practice.
Maybe you’re at a big law firm and tired of the long hours doing work that doesn’t seem to really have the kind of positive impact you hoped for when you went to law school. Or, perhaps you’ve been serving the uber-wealthy and you no longer want to spend your days helping the rich get richer. Or, maybe you just haven’t found the right practice model for your life.
Many lawyers find themselves in a difficult position. Unhappy, can’t sleep, and they know their job is at the root of their persistent discomfort. Still, they can’t quite identify what the problems are, so they can’t take action to make important changes.
As lawyers, we are lucky, though, because a law degree is a powerful tool that can be used to do so many different things, when you see all the options.
How do you figure out what kinds of changes you should make in order to transform your law practice into one that will make you happy?
Journaling is an excellent way to get your thoughts out on paper and to start clarifying your problems and your desires. Don’t just journal aimlessly, though. By focusing your writing on a few key ideas and questions, you’ll be able to identify what’s truly important to you in your law practice and in your life. Then, you can start to make these changes. Here’s how to do it.
Journaling for Change
If you want to make real change in the way you practice law (or in your life) you must shift into a mindset of making your decisions from where you want to be, not from where you currently are. And that requires you to be able to clearly see that future, put yourself into it, and then work backward to the choices you will make today to create the future happy, fulfilled, and thriving you. There’s no better tool for finding the clarity you want and need than a journal.
So, before you read any further, if you have not already, grab a pen and a notebook. I want you to write down: thoughts that arise about why you want to transition away from the way you are currently using your law degree; and any and all (no matter how out there or silly) ideas that occur to you about how you can make real change. Sometimes, the best idea comes through right after the most outlandish one makes it onto your page.
Thoughts and ideas can be fleeting, and you may think you’ll remember them when you need them, but you probably won’t. Something you read or think of while you’re working on a brief may spark an important thought or a fantastic idea, and you want to capture it while it’s fresh, before it flits away. So, once you start your journal, try to keep it with you at all times so that you can write down any ideas that pop into your head.
Question #1: Why?
You can’t successfully change your law practice unless you first know why you want to do it. Maybe you already know this–but maybe you don’t. Journaling will help you figure it out.
I want you to start journaling by reflecting on the question, “Why did you go to law school in the first place?” Title the first page in your notebook like this: Why I Went to Law School.
Now write down all your reasons. You may have one, or you may have many. Get them all out there—every single one.
Take a few moments to really think about what made you choose to become a lawyer. Here are some ideas to chew on if you’re stuck:
- Did you want to make a difference in the world?
- Did you have a cause in mind, such as having a long-lasting, positive effect on people’s lives?
- Did you want your life to have an impact—to matter?
- Maybe you did, or maybe you studied law because you didn’t know what to do and law sounded like a good option.
- Plus, you figured it was a profession that would allow you to make a lot of money.
- Maybe you just didn’t know what else to do and figured law school would be a good idea.
There is no wrong answer. No matter why you went to law school, your reason is valid and perfectly acceptable.
Question #2: What’s Not Working?
You may want to write something to this effect at the top of the next page in your journal: What’s Not Working for My Life, My Law Practice, and My Clients.
First, think about what isn’t working for you professionally. Here are some ideas for you to consider:
- Do you want to feel more appreciated by your clients?
- Are you constantly chasing invoices?
- Do you invest in lead services that send you clients who don’t hire you?
- Do the clients who do hire you use your services on a “one-off ” basis instead of staying with you long term?
- Do you wish you had a way to vet your clients and encourage them to stay with you long term so you could serve them better?
- Do you wish you had a way to educate your community about the law?
- Are you excited about how you could be leveraging technology in your practice, but you don’t even know where to start?
- Or does all this new technology terrify you because it could put you out of business?
After you’ve carefully considered the factors that aren’t working for you in your current law practice, you should take a close look at your own role in what’s happening.
Consider the question: Am I contributing to what’s not working? Here are some questions to ponder:
- What might you be doing now that truly is not best for your clients?
- Do you escalate conflict for your clients so you can bill more hours and earn more money for yourself? (Be honest.)
- Do you take on clients for whom you may not be the best fit, simply because you need to pay the bills?
- Do you feel as if you need to churn through clients, all the while suspecting that you may not be providing the best service for them?
- Have you put wills, trusts, and business plans in place knowing that if a situation arose—such as the death or incapacitation of your client or some kind of legal action against your client’s business—your legal documents would not provide the service and protection your clients will need?
- Do you constantly wonder where your next clients will come from and make your choices from a place of scarcity?
Spend some more time now looking at what isn’t working for you, your clients, and your business. This part can be uncomfortable, but don’t skip over it; it’s critically important that you get 100 percent crystal clear on this. No one is going to see this notebook except for you, so be brutally honest with yourself. Write down all the things that have been bothering you about your practice of law, even if you’ve been afraid to put them into words up until now. It will feel good to get these thoughts out and on paper, like a deep breath and an exhale—a release.
If you manage to make it through all of that journaling, stop and congratulate yourself: the first step to facing and moving beyond your frustrations and shortcomings is to acknowledge them. After reflecting on why you went to law school and the problems with the way you currently practice law, you should be ready to reflect on what kinds of changes you want to make for the future.
Visualizing change is the fun part. This is where you get to imagine the future you want. Remember how versatile that law degree is. There are so many possibilities, and you get to consider as many of them as you want as you imagine your ideal life and your ideal law practice. Don’t be afraid to think big, idealistic, happy thoughts. You’re only writing this for you, and you should be totally honest with yourself about what you want.
Then, congratulate yourself again, because now you’ve started your journey to change.
For more advice on how to use journaling to clarify what you want in your law practice, you can find The New Law Business Model book on Amazon.