The Truth, The Whole Truth And Nothing But The Truth – What Being A Lawyer Taught Me About Happiness.

When I say the word ‘lawyer’ what image does it conjure in your mind? What does the lawyer look like? What are their surroundings like?

(Just for fun, is the lawyer male or female? 

Male? 

Still some way to go on that gender stereotyping…) 

Some of you will know (but I suspect lots of you won’t) that before I started The Happy Business School I worked as a lawyer.

I have spent virtually all of my working life as a solicitor. I qualified 12 years ago and in that time I have seen the industry change and I’ve changed a lot too. That image of a lawyer you just conjured up probably looks quite different to the reality of being a lawyer. Most lawyers now don’t look like Rumpole of the Bailey, nor do they work in antiquated offices where the shelves are lined with law books. It’s not just the image of a lawyer that has changed – there is a lot about the culture and attitude associated with lawyers that has changed too. 

I’ve worked for law firms and in-house, managed teams, worked full time and part time. All this has lead me to reflect on what I’ve learnt from my career in law and how this has shaped how I approach my work now, helping businesses make their workplaces happier. So what did being a lawyer teach me about happiness? 

Firstly it taught me that it’s not titles and trappings that make us happy. It’s connections with those around us and doing meaningful work. For years I fell into that trap of climbing the career ladder. Getting promotion after promotion until I was head of department and part of the senior leadership team. For years I told myself that getting that next promotion, that next opportunity would be the things that would make me happy. And you guessed it, they didn’t. That’s not to say that I wasn’t happy but the things that made me happy were the personal connections with people around me and feeling like I was contributing in a meaningful way to the business and to those around me. It wasn’t the big stuff but the small stuff that made me tick – supporting someone through a tricky time, giving someone the confidence to step out of their comfort zone, finding a creative solution to a problem. And that stuff didn’t depend on my title or how many staff I was managing. 

I also realised that by finding joy in the small things I could influence my own happiness more easily. I might not have had control over the big stuff but I could decide how I reacted in a particular situation. I could decide to go out of my way to help someone or take time to thank them for helping me. I also started to understand that it was a waste of energy and headspace to get stressed about things that were outside of my control. As a lawyer there are lots of things we can’t control. We can’t control how our clients behave, how our opponents act, how the court deals with a particular case. I therefore had to learn that I was far better spending my energy on things that were within my control – I could manage my client’s expectations and help them understand the legal process, I could meet my opponent’s hostility with calm and reasoned responses, I could do my best to make sure the court had everything it needed and check in to make sure things were in hand. By drawing a line between the things within my control and those outside it, and only spending energy on the things within my control I learnt to be less stressed and feel more in control.

The old stereotype of a lawyer is someone who is very single-minded and doesn’t have much time for others. I’m glad to say that applies to very few lawyers that I know. Most realise the privilege of their position and the support they received from others and want to give back, whether that be helping the next generation of lawyer or being a great leader. Giving back and supporting others was, I learned, a great way to give myself a boost too. 

Like many professions there has not been enough focus on mental health in the legal profession. Thankfully the legal world is moving in the right direction, and whilst, like many professions, there is still work to do, there is at least an acknowledgment that lawyers aren’t robots, and it’s not healthy to be put under extraordinary pressure with no support mechanisms. Law firms are investing in workplace mental health and putting in place support systems for their people. There is lots more to be done but things are starting to change. 

More emphasis on mental wellbeing is an example of the legal profession moving with the times, not something the profession is traditionally known for but something it is getting better at. Whether it be investing in technology or understanding the importance of workplace culture, law firms are gradually stepping out of their comfort zones and embracing change. 

So, ‘What has this got to do with workplace happiness?’ I hear you say. Well, embracing the concept of workplace happiness is not something that would have happened ten years ago, but recently a candidate for the role of managing partner at Clifford Chance, a top city law firm, said, if successful, he would employ a Chief Happiness Officer. His statement made the press, because city law firms aren’t known for their commitment to happiness. But what it does show, in my view, is a turning of the tide. Change is coming. Businesses can either embrace it or get left behind. Being a lawyer taught me that change can be wonderful. I have seen what was once a stuffy profession for the privileged few now embracing people from all walks of life, with more focus than ever on mental wellbeing, inclusion and diversity – and even seeing the value in employing a Chief Happiness Officer!

What being a lawyer has taught me about workplace happiness is that we should look for the joy in our work and realise that it’s not found in trappings and titles, that we need to invest in mental wellbeing and create workplaces where people can be themselves and feel supported and valued, and finally that change can be brilliant – if we dare to be brave enough to stand up for workplace happiness things will change and businesses and their people will thrive as a result.  

If you want to learn more about how to help your teams thrive and create a more positive workplace culture The Happy Business School can help. Whether it’s an in-house workshop or a keynote speech at an off-site or leadership event get in touch for a chat about what The Happy Business School can do for you.

Workshop/keynote examples:

  • From Doughnuts and Dopamine: Leading a happy team
  • From Thrive to Survive: Building resilience and overcoming adversity using positive psychology
  • What I am doing Here?: Finding purpose and meaning at work
  • Happy Mind, Happy Me: How to cultivate a more positive mindset at work
  • The Happiness Habits of Successful Businesses

#happiness #culture #lawyer

5 myths about happiness at work

Wrong. The absence of disease isn’t health and the absence of misery isn’t happiness. Just because we might do enough as leaders to not have our people crying at their desks doesn’t mean we are invested in their happiness. Just because an employees comes in every day, does a good job and leaves without complaining about anything doesn’t mean they are happy.

Wrong. It’s right that some some people are more naturally optimistic but, with practice, you can become happier. There is a wealth of science that shows, when we know how, we can train our brains to be more positive. Asking someone to write down three good things that have happened in the last 24 hours may appear glib but this is about training the brain to spot positive things. When we learn to look for things we see them more easily.

Wrong. In fact blind optimism is a bad thing. Who wants to be in a plane where the pilot never believes anything bad can happen so doesn’t bother doing all the safety checks (not me for sure!). Just like in the world of work we don’t want to fail to look out for the risks and dangers, we just don’t want to be overwhelmed by the fear of them.

Wrong. The science tells us that being happier at work makes us more productive, more resilient, more creative, more accurate, more analytical, less likely to take time off sick, leave or burnout. Who doesn’t want those benefits? Yes, what a great wellbeing initiative to be able to say we are interested and investing in your happiness but it goes much further than that. There are real business benefits to helping people increase their happiness.

This one is only a half myth. Yes, people need to be invested in working on their own happiness but as a leader it is for us to help them with that, to show them we value their happiness, to allow them time to work on it, to give them the tools they need to become happier at work. Importantly we need to help them understand why being happy at work is important. As a leader if you can show you are invested in your own happiness it will show your people they should invest in theirs too.

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