The Demands of Legal Practice

One of the struggles with being a lawyer, coaching lawyers is that I get it. I can 1,000% relate to the struggles and challenges female attorneys face. I know the pains of receiving emergent emails as you’re about to walk out the door to a funeral, the helpless fatigue and mild depression that sets in on your 10th straight day of working 14-hour days. I’ve been there.

The challenge then, for me, is to remain impartial and offer my clients the opportunity to examine their reality through a different lens. As difficult as it is for me not to get into the drama pool with my clients, my goal is to offer a space where we can reasonably and rationally address the challenges of practicing law and strategize how to stay afloat.

My experience as any attorney has made me intimately familiar with certain “truths” about the practice of law that we are all better off simply accepting:

It will be demanding.

There will be long days.

You will have to make sacrifices.

While I work with my clients to explore different ways of thinking about their practice, a positive outlook cannot insulate us from these truths. Rather than trying to put lipstick on this pig, we work to anticipate these inevitable challenges.

First, we stop fighting these realities.

There are certain aspects of practicing law that simply come with the territory. Litigators and deal lawyers will be at the mercy of the life cycle of the deal or the case. There isn’t much you can do to change many of those deadlines. Non-transactional lawyers will have different marketing expectations and will have to juggle 20 different clients on any given day. That is just part of the deal.

In the same way, we would not sign up to lifeguard and complain about having to wear a bathing suit all day long, we cannot waste energy fighting with certain realities about the legal practice. It’s futile and it is making us miserable.

Second, we have to understand our “why”.

Why are you doing this? Why did you sign up to have your weekends and schedule sabotaged by the demands of the job? Are you trying to develop the skills to land an in-house job, are you trying to make partner, are you wanting to pay off your student loans?

If you are you going to survive the challenges of a legal practice, you must gain some clarity as to why you are choosing to stay.

Because, after all, you are making a choice. The job is not happening to you. You are choosing to invite the above challenges into your life. You are not a victim.

In order to move past our tendency to mourn for the life that we lost or yearn for the life that we want, we have to focus on our WHY. Why do you stay? Why do you do it?

Instead of carrying the mental and emotional weight that comes when we agonize over the realities of legal practice, we can shift that energy to getting through it. Our justification for staying allows us to make that shift. Once we know why we are doing it, we can dispense with the lamentations and weather the storm.

For many of my clients, once they realize and connect with their WHY, they can start seeing the job as simply a season in their life.

It’s the same principle we employ when we lift weights or train for a marathon. It’s painful and it’s grueling and it requires sacrifices but we do it because we see the ultimate goal and we are committed to it. We have a compelling reason for our suffering. Your legal practice is no different.

It’s supposed to be hard and challenging.

That is what you signed up for. But for many of my clients, partnership, and lifetime commitment to billable hours is not their desired result; it’s simply a means to an end. It’s a season in life that has an expiration date. It will not last forever. That is the head space that will keep you on track and allow you to use the experience as it was intended in your life.

Stop fighting with reality and start taking ownership for your choice to stay. I know it’s frustrating and challenging and sometimes soul-sucking but you choose to be there. Focus on what this experience will GET you.

It’s just a season in your life. It will pass.

If you are treading water in your practice and feeling overwhelmed and tired, set up a  time to chat (for free) and let’s get to work reconnecting with your WHY so you can get back to it.


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Toxic Work Environments

This morning, I was thinking of some of the more challenging experiences in my legal career. A few of my favorite little gems from myself and my clients:

Put your big girl panties on and figure it out (a first year associate trying to ask questions to the assigning partner).

You are just sour you didn’t get appointed to the Board (regarding being underpaid in comparison to male counterparts).

Sometimes people say the wrong things to the wrong people (from a managing partner a female attorney who just raised a sexual harassment complaint).

If you were [a male partner] I would fire you for this (after questioning why a male co-worker was getting paid nearly twice what she was making).

The practice of law is challenging and, for better or worse, the practice of law usually requires interactions with some very *challenging* humans.

Part of my work is helping women get to a place of self-examination–thinking on purpose and recognizing how those thoughts impact the results we create in our life. That work typically requires a hard conversation with one’s self about whether a thought is serving you.

I hate my body becomes I’m learning to love my body.

My boss is a jerk becomes I have a boss.

I hate working at this firm becomes I have a job at a firm.

Those subtle shifts have tremendous impact how we feel, how we show up, and ultimately on our reality.

But what about circumstances that you don’t want to feel good about?

What about that day you are sitting in that office having the most difficult conversation of your life, challenging leadership for an explanation why your male counterpart gets paid so much more than you and instead of listening to you, he threatens to fire you for raising the issue?

That, dear readers, is not a situation any of us would want to feel good about.

When we encounter these types of challenges, we don’t want to shift to a better thought. In truth, sometimes these experiences feel more like an out of body experience. We slip out of our bodies to watch these dumpster fires from a distance.

After these experiences, we don’t want to have flowery thoughts about it. We want to be angry. We want to feel indignant. We want to truly own the experience of being treated unfairly. To being ignored and belittled. Treated like a child.

Where do you go from there?

For any experience in our life, we have the power to decide:

How do I want to feel about this? What do I want to think about this?

We have choices to make.

What would my future self tell me to do? How would she tell me to show up?

While we truly believe that we have been belittled and treated unfairly, it is not productive to set up camp with those thoughts. It didn’t matter whether it’s true. Those thoughts created a spiral of unproductive anger, bitterness, and resentment.

Those feelings drive off on indignant rants and whining, complaining, and passive aggression. Those thoughts truly drive us to act like a bratty child throwing a tantrum.

You must challenge your angry thoughts and examine the impact each one has one you — how you feel, how you act from that space and the result that it gets you. Find one that sparks progress instead of combustion.

You have to find a thought that propels you to that vision you want for yourself.

In these situations, my clients want to show up strong and confident. They want to be truthful and unbiased and not cover up the experience.

They don’t want to spew hatred about their firms or their leadership; they want to shine the light. They want to be cool, calm, collected and HONEST.

A mantra we often discuss in our sessions is: This is my truth and this is what happened to me and I am not going to hide or sugarcoat it for anyone.

For most of us, those thoughts create confident, honesty, and strength. It makes us feel like a champion for women. When I have applied that mantra to some of my less than rosy experiences of my career, that thought made me feel a little bitter and indignant but not in a way that made me want to burn it all down. In a way that wanted me to open up about it.

Most of ultimately walk way from toxic work environments. We do not transform them. We do not change their mindset. The firms rarely see any err in their ways.

So many of us have experiences like those above and we take it. We put our heads down and keep trucking. If we stop to ask ourselves – how do I want to feel about this? How do I want to show up in this moment? In 10 years, how will I wish I had shown up?

It’s easier to take the lumps as they come and just keep going.

It’s part of the job.

It’s just the way it is.

I will never change them.

Those thoughts keep us struck in a world where things like this keep happening. Those thoughts are safe. They allow you to avoid the difficult conversation.

What would it be like if we all chose to speak our truth and be honest about our experiences? No matter what the cost. Would we be farther along than we are?

Don’t feel entitled to anything you didn’t sweat and struggle for. — Marian Wright Edelman

If you are angry with what you are seeing in your work environment, how about some FREE support? Reserve one of my three weekly mini-sessions before they are all gone!


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Living Authentically

As women in the legal industry, we have the unfortunate “opportunity” to be treated differently. Sexually suggestive comments, demeaning remarks about women in general, getting mistaken for a secretary, being compensated unfairly, just to name a few. One recent study concluded that sexual harassment in the legal industry is at epidemic proportions. Sadly, I have never met a woman in the legal industry who has not experienced some of these challenges.

Yet, despite our ability to clearly articulate ourselves and zealously defend others, so many of my clients and colleagues shy away from defending themselves.

Why is that? 

Many of my clients relate stories to me about their work environment that remind me of my experiences in an abusive relationship. It is difficult to deny that sometimes our work relationships are not all that much different than controlling and toxic romantic relationships.

What is also similar about the two is that in both instances, we have the opportunity to stand up for ourselves, set boundaries, and re-write our story but many of us decline to do so.

If you are living in a work environment that you believe is “toxic”, now is the time to take back your agency. Erase the victim mindset and start taking control of your life. This will likely require you to have some uncomfortable conversations, it might require boundaries, and it most certainly will require you to start re-thinking your life.

We cannot overcome challenging relationships if we believe the relationship is happening to us and we just have to accept it.

When it comes to unhealthy romantic relationships, we are often quick to judge those women who stay too long or “put up with” too much. But how is staying in an abusive and toxic working environment any different?

Whether it is our personal life or our professional life, we have the power to make choices.

We get to decide what is acceptable for us. We get to decide whether to stay in the relationship or not. If you believe that your boss treats you poorly or you feel taken advantage of, silence in that aspect of your life is akin to tacit approval of such mistreatment in your personal life. So why is it that we are so quick to accept things professionally that we would never accept personally?

Because we are wed to faulty beliefs:

This is just the way it is

I can’t change it, why make a fuss?

I have to take it, he gives me all my work

If I say something, they will think I’m being emotional or a complainer

These thoughts are riddled with problems.

First, they are neither true nor factual. They are simply opinions. Opinions that form the basis for resignation and silence. We treat them as absolute facts but they are not. They are things we have chosen to believe.

Second, those beliefs justify our willingness to accept treatment that is not consistent with who we are. We end up pretending to be someone we are not, accepting things we are not actually okay with. We end up lying to all those around us; giving them a false impression of what’s important to us.

Third, you are sacrificing your values and dignity in an attempt to control how others think of you.

I’m not going to say anything because I don’t want to be seen as a complainer.

You are being silent because you are trying to manipulate how others see and think of you. This never works. What I often see happening is that eventually the façade becomes too heavy to bear and women abruptly quit their jobs with little to no explanation given. The firms are either shocked or completely confused by the result and any opportunity for positive change and honesty is eclipsed.

Make a commitment to be authentic in all or your relationships.

If we continue to believe that the legal environment is “just not for us”, we will continue to drop out of the fight without putting on our boxing gloves. If you believe you have been mistreated or you believe that there is room for improvement in your working relationships, commit to having those uncomfortable conversations. You never know, you might foster change for the next generation of women in your position.

Promise yourself that when and if you leave your firm there will be no confusion about your rationale for leaving.

There will be no confusion because you will have voiced your concerns and thoughts openly and honestly during your tenure. The reasons for your departure will have all been clearly laid out for them already.

When we are silent about our struggles in the legal industry we handicap ourselves and we allow bad behavior to continue.

Find your voice and start living authentically, it’s so much more fun than the alternative.

Not sure how to have those difficult conversations? Get some free support today. The silence isn’t worth it.


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Believing New Things

One of the questions I get most often when coaching my clients is:

How do I stop thinking that?

Once we understand the correlation between our thoughts and how those thoughts are creating our present reality, the first thing my clients want to do as professional perfectionists is FIX it. Once we understand the equation, we want to clean it up and get back to work.

As attorneys, it is our job to strategize, navigate, and fix problems. When we realize that our brain is part of the “problem” it is natural for us to want to fix it.

The problem is that our brain is a formidable adversary and, no matter how much coaching we do, will we ever be able to build you a brain that only thinks, productive, worthy thoughts.

So we must learn to co-exist with our nasty little thoughts.

We must stop fighting them! Unproductive thoughts will always be part of our reality. The key is getting to a place where we see those thoughts as neither good nor bad. Simply a sentence our brain is really good at offering us.

Whenever we botch a big project, our brain is always going to want to tell us that we don’t belong, we will never figure it out, etc. We are SO GOOD at thinking those thoughts! It is natural that our efficient, primitive brain would continue to do so.

So what do we do?

(The second most common question I get from my clients.)

We see the thought, we understand the negative impact it is having on our life, and now we are ready to change it, right?!

Nope.

We want to erase the “bad” thought. We want to shift to a new thought or build upon ladder thoughts to feel better or create the results that we want. However, when we jump right in like that, we continually find ourselves back at the original thought and more frustrated that we can’t make the shift.

This is a sign that we are not yet ready to move on to a new thought. We keep coming back because there is a part of us that still believes the original thought. We don’t yet see it as a set of words that pop into our head.

There is still a part of us that hasn’t accepted it as an optional description of reality.

What we have to do in that situation is to challenge ourselves and force a paradigm shift. We’ve all had those experiences in our lives where suddenly a long-held thought or belief is completely deconstructed due to something that we’ve learned, witnessed, or experienced. We need to create that same type of paradigm shift within ourselves about that thought.

For each of those automatic thoughts that we want to move away from we have to really start asking:

Is it true how?

Could I understand things differently?

Where does that thought come from?

Why am I choosing to believe that?

What if that weren’t true?

What are the facts of my story?

What if nothing has gone wrong?

Can I imagine this another way?

What if I did know what to do?

Questioning and challenging the thought will allow your mind the space to start examining whether or not that belief is really true. It helps us get to a place where we can accept that the thought is just a thought–it’s not a fact and other alternatives exist.

Once we start dismantling the belief and seeing it as just that a belief or optional thought, only from there can we starts shifting to a new thought.

Whenever we find ourselves in a mental thought boomerang, it’s a sign that we’re not ready to accept that belief as untrue. We tried to move forward with a new, contrary belief while we’re continuing to believe the old thought.

In order to solidify the shift, we have to come to a place where we accept that the original belief is optional.

We have to allow ourselves to dismantle that belief and start seeing poking holes in it.

If you don’t allow yourself the space to dismantle that belief it will always pop up and continue to derail any shifting that you are trying to make. First we must disprove the thoughts and loosen its grip on ourselves.

Many of my clients have struggled to “clean up” their negative thoughts patterns unsuccessfully. They come to me frustrated with their inability to move to higher mental ground. This is part of the process we work through in the coaching space–dismantling closely held thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions that aren’t serving you.

Schedule a free consultation and check it out for yourself.


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Dreaded Projects

There are always those projects that we dread doing. We put them off and go out of our way to avoid doing them or ever thinking about them. I recently  worked with a client who was tap dancing around her own version of a dreaded project and wanted to share the steps we worked through to de-escalate the dread.

Get to the root of the dread.

For many of us, we avoid projects that we know will be challenging or that relate to an area of law that we aren’t comfortable with. We put them off because actually doing the project drives home our discomfort with the subject matter. We don’t like being reminded of what we don’t know and it is uncomfortable to wade through uncharted legal mazes.

If it is simply discomfort with a difficult task, the best way to uproot the problem is to break it into bite-sized pieces and schedule them (i.e., GYST). If it’s a large document that needs to be reviewed or a looming diligence project, break it down into segments and schedule time during your week to attend to each segment of the project. If it’s a research project, schedule separate blocks to time to dig into each relevant area of law. Whatever the breakdown may be, it’s easier to tackle the unknown and discomfort when we can do it in small doses.

Furthermore, this approach will force you to get started right away — there is no room to delay the project until the very last minute as we often want to do with these types of things. Take your time, learn what the project has to offer and take it piece by piece.

No one builds a house in a day. Treat the assignment like a construction project and build it brick by brick, day by day. Stop looking at the massive scale of the project and focus on each piece and what it can teach you.

If there is another reason you are avoiding the project–you don’t like the client or the partner–that’s a whole different issue and is going to require you to do some work on your brain. But that doesn’t mean the above concept will be lost on you. If the root of the problem comes from the parties involved, you can utilize the above approach to dip your toes into that relationship pond little by little and practice managing your mind with each step.

Get factual.

My most recent client had a project that she was dreading. She had made time on her calendar to address the project but kept feeling temped to move it. She explained that it was a massive project with lots of interconnected documents and disclosures. She had made significant headway on the project but was avoiding taking the final steps.

When you find yourself hesitating to jump into a project like this, it is likely because your brain has created some drama around the project. In this case, my client believed that the project was “massive.” So, we spent some time unpacking what she meant by massive. How much more time is needed for the project? What are the exact steps you will need to take to get through this segment of the project? Is there a way that you can bring in additional support?

While the project itself may or may not have actually been “massive,” my client was believing that it was. That sent her mind down a dramatic spiral and set her up for avoidance. In reality, the segment of the project waiting for her on her calendar that day would require only one hour and would allow her to lean on her paralegal for additional support. We realized that most of the work for that part of the project was already done; she simply needed to get her head back into the project, do some issue spotting, and utilize her team. When we set aside the drama and looked at the exact next steps, the project was no longer something to be dreaded, it was much simpler than she was allowing her self to believe.

When we allow our brains to tell us that a project is “massive…horrible…never-ending…pointless,” we set ourselves up for failure. We are going to struggle finding motivation to tackle projects when we believe that we are in for some sort of legal gauntlet. We have to recognize the drama that we have created and sift through it.

How much time is needed for the project?

Can you break it into smaller chunks?

Is it appropriate to bring in additional support?

Have you decided to believe that you are the only one that can do it all? Is that true?

By doing it “all” are you making your greatest contribution or is some of the work better suited for others?

What are the EXACT steps that you will need to execute for each chunk of the project.

We have to be aware of our brain’s tendency to create drama. In those moments when our brain is telling us that the sky is falling, we have to take a step back and sift through the facts. What we often find, much like my client, is that the drama in our brains is a lot of smoke and mirrors and underneath it all are tasks and challenges that we are more than equipped to handle.

Let go of the drama and start dominating your project list; it’s so much more fun than worrying about your projects.

Sometimes all it takes is an outside perspective to help you see it. Reach out for some free support if you find your days clouded with avoidance and self-doubt; I’d love to show you a better way to practice.


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I’m Not Going To Make It

When we look around at our live and see all that we have, it is important to recognize where it all came from. How you were able to create it.

As attorneys, it’s easy to look to our law school education as one of our greatest accomplishments. Have you ever thought back to that time and considered what you were thinking that got you through it? What were you believing about yourself that propelled you through those 5-hour finals?

Have you ever considered the opposite end of the spectrum? Consider some of your struggles in life. Times when you weren’t showing up in a way that you were proud of or times when you threw in the towel. What were you believing about yourself in those times?

Our beliefs about ourselves and our abilities bubble below the surface in everything that we do.

I can support you to identify your negative thinking patterns and shift to some prettier thinking but if the beliefs you have about yourself are toxic, none of our work will stick.

What we believe about ourselves and our abilities are often based upon our past experiences. What we were taught, what we have learned about ourselves from events 5, 10, 15 years ago. The truth is that none of that is relevant today. There is no reason our pasts have any bearing on our abilities today.

We can choose to believe anything we want to believe by ourselves.

We are not constrained by our pasts.

There is no universal truth about your ability to create the life you want to. It all depends upon whether or not you believe you can do it.

Many of my clients set big goals for themselves and whenever they are faced with challenge, their brain immediately offers them those deeply ingrained beliefs about themselves. I just don’t have what it takes. I’m not cut out for this. I’m not smart enough. I’m not good enough.

We have so many beliefs like these rolling around our brains, running automatically in the background like elevator music behind everything we do and everything positive thought we try to believe. We treat these words as if they are facts. There is a part of us that believes those statements about our abilities are true.

Unless and until you can identify and address your negative beliefs about yourself, you will never be able to achieve you dreams.

This is why so many of us achieve big things but those accomplishments never hit our radar. We finished law school, we landed that major clerkship, we got the job at prestigious firm but we still don’t feel fulfilled and we don’t feel happy. We barely pause for a moment to recognize the achievement because we still don’t believe we deserve it. We believe we aren’t worthy or good enough. We’re impostors and they will find us out! Those thoughts are playing in the background and drown out any positive interpretations of our accomplishments.

The accomplishments never make us feel better because our negative beliefs about ourselves jump in and remind us that it is never going to work. So many of us spend our lives caught in this cycle, constantly achieving and reaching goals but never feeling fulfilled.

The first step in learning to believe new things about yourself is to recognize the negative beliefs you are carrying around.

Take a look at them and see them for what they are: optional thoughts. Choices you are making.

Do you want to continue to believe those things?

Are those beliefs serving you?

How would your life be different if you chose to believe something different?

Second, allow yourself some grace for those thought errors.

You are human and your brain is really good and repeating those thought to keep you safe and cozy. There is nothing wrong with you. Recognizing that your brain has this thought pattern, is not a free pass to dive into another batch of negative self-talk about yourself. These negative thought patterns are normal; don’t beat yourself up for having them.

Third, force yourself to argue with the thought.

What if I am good enough?

What if I can  do this?

What if I can figure it out?

Let those questions lead your brain to some better fodder.

Finally, choose an alternative belief about yourself that does serve you and your goals.

Consider these suggestions:

It’s not what we do—it’s who we are.

There is nothing wrong with you.

You are enough.

Sometimes I doubt myself and that’s okay, I am learning to be more confident.

Nothing has gone wrong here.

I’m responsible for everything I think and feel.

My purpose is the life I am living now.

If you don’t do this work of recognizing and addressing those closely held beliefs you have about yourself and your worthiness, you will always be striving toward your goals while dragging a ball and chain.

Stop fighting yourself and get on the same team.

Get support for free by signing up for a free mini-session. I reserve three slots a week–get yours before it’s gone!


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Managing Overwhelm

One of the primary reasons that my clients struggle with the practice of law is that they often feel like their life is out of control.

Their time and their practice is completely out of their hands. There’s a general feeling of helplessness and overwhelm. As if every moment, every lull in workflow is just another calm before the storm where there is too much work and no room to breathe.

We want to believe that we don’t have any control. We want to believe that work overload just happens to us and we have no role to play in it.

But that is only true if you decide to make it true.

In every moment of every day we have control over ourselves and the choices that we make. We decide how to handle every task that comes to us. We choose whether to do the work or not do the work. Rationally, we all know this to be true. But when we are stuck in the midst of the chaos and struggling to keep afloat, how do we silence the chaos and harness our own agency?

When we are swimming in overwhelming thoughts about our workload, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. Given this, my recommendation is very simple:

Get brutally honest.

Write down everything that you are telling yourself you “have” to do. Make a long list of all the things that are overwhelming you. Next to each project write the deadline BUT only include true, factual deadlines. When a partner emails you and says “We really need to get this out today,” that is not a real deadline. That is a preference; a request; a hope. For purposes of this exercise, we note that project’s deadline as “TBD.”

Get all the facts.

For all of those projects whose deadlines are TBD, we develop a communication strategy with the goal being additional fact-finding. We need to determine whether this is a  real deadline or not and whether there is flexibility in how we prioritize this item.

This may require you to contact the partner or the client and express to them where this request falls with respect to your other factual deadlines. Let them know that you want to do a good job and give the project the attention it requires but, given your other deadlines, you are concerned you won’t be able to give it the attention it deserves.

Be honest and focused on the goal: you want to find a way to good work for everyone and you don’t want to give any project short-shrift unless there is absolutely no alternative.

Eliminate and prioritize.

Whenever we start to think “there’s too much work to do,” our brain simply piles on. That email you have been sitting on for a week is suddenly an emergency to your brain; it MUST be dealt with today!

We have to stop this avalanche of “to dos” right in its tracks. If, after completing your list in Step 1 and assigning fact-based deadlines in Step 2, you have a project that is still TBD or unclear, that project gets moved to a NEW list: the Wouldn’t It Be Nice list.

We all have those little nagging projects that we just put off and put off and once things get heated we suddenly make that project a massive, career-making or -breaking priority. Stop doing that. Do not let the overwhelm create an avalanche of tasks. Know what projects are not priorities in this moment and move on. You don’t have to do it all today. You can prioritize real deadlines today and prioritize your Wouldn’t It Be Nice list on another day.

Recognize your limits.

Do not allow yourself to believe that there is no way to get help or support. I often hear my clients tell me “there’s no one who is able to help….everyone else is super busy too…my paralegal isn’t any help…my secretary can’t do that.” Those statements only keep you stuck. They make you the victim to your to do list. Do not believe that any of those statements are true unless and until you have asked for and allowed in support.

You do not and should not have to do it all on your own. (Rinse and repeat.)

You will be a better lawyer and a better team mate if you learn to recognize your limits and ask for help when you need it. If you want to believe that there is no help available to you, I challenge you to investigate the truth of that statement. Maybe it’s true and maybe it’s not but my guess is that you aren’t even open to the possibility of asking to see if there is any truth to that belief.

If you want to believe there is no help available for you, prove it to yourself first. You owe it to your sanity.

An ounce of prevention….

Even before the workload heats up, there are things that you can do to take control over your practice. In order to do that you have to decide what you want your practice to look like–are there certain clients you don’t want to work with? Are there partners you want to avoid? Is there an area of law you want to focus on? Is there an area of law you want to move away from?

If you don’t know where you want to go, you allow yourself to be at the mercy of others and where they want your practice to go.

Early on in my practice, I had a partner who told me that she wanted me to work only on her projects, within her specialty. She didn’t want me to expand my work into other areas of the group; she wanted me to become an expert in her specialty and her clients. Not only did I not want to work exclusively for this partner for a variety of personal and professional reasons, I did not like her type of clients. I wanted to have a broad understanding of our practice area as a whole because I knew that someday I would leave that firm and I didn’t not want to set myself up for a hiring handicap by limiting my experience. I organized a meeting with the other partners in the group and the practice group chair and I told them what I wanted for my career–a well-rounded practice with full exposure to all of our clients and sub-specialties. And that is what I got. Had it not been for that moment, I would never have had the skillset I needed to move on and found my own practice group serving all areas of specialty.

Make a decision about where you want your practice to go and commit to it for at least a year. You can always change your mind later. Do not allow room for thoughts that this will limit you in the future. This is not only intended to allow you to focus your efforts but is also intended to insulate you from project overload.

When you identify where you want your practice to go and you voice that desire to your partners, you have established an order of priority for your work. You permit those partners that you WANT to work with to see you as their “go to.” It will be understood that they get first priority over your time and it sends a message to others to keep their “busy work” projects for other associates.

Rather than waiting in fear that you will get buried in work that you don’t want to do, seek out a stream of work that you WANT to do and continually work to keep that plate full. When your plate is full for a particular partner or client, you can better anticipate the ebbs and flows and practice defensively–keeping your plate full of work you WANT in order to avoid others filling it with work you DON’T want.

In the middle of work overload? Take advantage of a free session, and let’s get your head right.


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Too Much To Do

Would it surprise you to know that we make approximately 35,000 choices every day? Once you factor in the amount of time we spend sleeping, that means that we are making thousands of decisions every hour. It’s no wonder that we are  exhausted at the end of every day.

There are many ways people make decisions in every moment. What I find interesting is that so many of us are willing to hand over those decisions to others. Rather than making a conscious decision, we (subconsciously decide to) answer to whomever or whatever is immediately before us.

Part of being a skilled attorney is the ability to answer to many masters and juggle various projects all at once. But what I often see is that when those masters ratchet up the heat and those juggling balls become flaming wands, all decision-making goes out the door. Instead, in that instance, we hand over our agency, put our heads down, and just keep taking the blows.

In those moments, it may feel like you don’t have a choice. That this is just part of the job. But the truth is that you are making a choice in that moment–to answer the phone, to say yes to that new project, to respond to that email. You are choosing to allow whatever is in front of you to slide into the front of your priority line.

The nature of having various projects on your desk at any given time is that you are going to have to make decisions about which projects to handle first and where new projects fall with respect to your already strained attention. When we allow our project list and the demands of those around us to overwhelm us, we wear out our resolve. We simply run out of clear-thinking. At that point, we just keep drinking from the fire hose until it calms down.

What I offer is a different choice: put in the legwork ahead of time to minimize the decisions to be made in any given moment.

We make decisions ahead of time so that there is no decision to be made in the heat of the moment or, if there is a decision to be made, it is simplified. This means planning in advance from our prefrontal cortex (i.e., fully functioning, good decision-making adult-y brain) instead of allowing our primitive brain (i.e., a tantrum-y, capricious, toddler brain) to make any decisions whatsoever. With my weight loss clients, this means planning meals in advance. For my other clients, this means setting priorities and scheduling each of our to-do list items on our calendars.

We know that work is going to get crazy and we make decisions ahead of time what gets our attention that day; we don’t invite the toddler to the dumpster fire.

When we go into each month, each week, and each day, knowing our priorities, we can get to work the minute we sit down.

There is no need to agonize over the to-do list or make ANY decisions about what you are going to work on or when you are going to check your email. We’ve already decided what is important and everything else has gotten it’s own place on our calendar. There is no decision-fatigue because the most important decision of the day has been made: where we are going to focus our energy.

Having avoided that decision-fatigue you will have the energy to re-evaluate any new project or fire that comes your way. For each item presented to you for your attention, you can decide:

How does this compare to my priority for the day? Is it consistent with my priority? Why or why not? Does this new project require heightened priority?

Those are the only decisions to be made. We don’t have to step into the pool of overwhelm about all the other projects on our list; we don’t even have to look at the whole list. The only metric for comparison in that moment is your priority for the day.

If the new project conflicts with your priority and there is no justification for reshuffling priorities, then you either don’t take the new project or you decide if you have other open time on your calendar for that project. When our priorities are clear and when our non-priorities are scheduled out on our calendars, we know exactly how much availability we have and we know exactly whether we will be able to fit in anything new.

This approach does not allow room for: When am I going to get this all done?! I can’t say no to this project. I’m never going to have enough time!

If you find your days regularly hi-jacked by surprise projects and feel overwhelmed by your to-do list, I encourage you to implement mechanisms to start minimizing the decisions you make in every moment. That will require you to get clear on your project list–What is a priority? What are the real deadlines? What can wait? Do I have to say yes to this?

Set priorities in anticipation of the chaos that comes with practicing law.

You will get pulled in various directions.

You will be challenged to “do it all.”

Don’t hand over your power.

Don’t offer your day to the mercy of others. Make decisions about your time and your priorities and evaluate everything else from there. Make decisions ahead of time so that you are better equipped to make decisions in the moment.

Need support getting your daily practice in order? I offer three free sessions every week to get you back on track–sign up now before they are gone.


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Feeling Defensive

As lawyers, it is our job to be right. To get the right answer, to find the right solution, to have the right words. In truth, you could say that about any profession, unless you are a meteorologist (no one is ever surprised when they are wrong). No one likes to be wrong.

Many of my clients struggle with being wrong because of what they make that mean about themselves. If they are wrong, it must mean they are not good enough, they aren’t cut out to be lawyers.

I recently had a mini-session with a young attorney who was telling me about her horrible work environment. When I asked her to give me an example of how her horrible boss had berated her, she said that he told her the memo she prepared for him was terrible and that she completely missed one of the most important legal issues. “What were you thinking?!” he had said to her. And. She. Was. Pissed.

How could he speak to me like that? I don’t deserve to be treated like that. He completely embarrassed me in front of all my colleagues.

As we talked about it, I asked her to answer this question: what exactly she was thinking when she turned in the memo? I just wanted it to be over with. I hate working for him. It as a terrible legal issue and I just wanted to be done with it. The more we discussed it, we discovered that the memo was not great, was not well thought out, and she had, in fact, missed an important legal issue. Everything this partner had said to her was true.

When we feel ourselves getting defensive, the most important question you can ask yourself before you explode on the other human is this:

Are they right?

Is it true?

If it is true, what am I making that mean about myself and why?

Whenever we are feeling defensive, it is because you believe that part of whatever criticism you just received is true. If it wasn’t true, at least in part, it wouldn’t bother you.

If someone were to say to me, That article you wrote for the paper last week was pretty terrible, it wouldn’t bother me. I wouldn’t care because I didn’t write an article for any paper. There is no truth in that statement for me. It doesn’t resonate with me at all.

However, if someone were to say to me, You and your partner should have kids, you’re going to regret it, my hair would practically start on fire. That hits a mark because it hits on thoughts and doubts that I have had about my life. It challenges decisions I have made and second-guessed. There is a possibility that, some day, I might regret our decision not to have kids. It hurts because I have grappled with and questioned the truth of that exact statement.

For many of us, when people hurl these types of comments at us, we ignite. We get defensive, we get angry and indignant.

The reason we are defensive is because we see that fleck of truth and we don’t like what that means: it reminds us that they might be right.

For my client, acknowledging the truth of what her partner said meant owning the fact that she didn’t do a good job. When she opened herself up to that possibility, what quickly followed was the conclusion that she was not cut out to be lawyer. She just wasn’t good enough. She was never going to make it. Those thoughts made her feel hopeless and scared.

Instead of working through those ugly thoughts resulting from the truth of the statement, we resist all of it.

We push it back onto the other person. We try to argue that what they said wasn’t true. It is always easier to be angry and defensive than admit our faults.

If we allow the other person to be right, at least, in part, we have to examine what that means for ourselves. What are you making it mean when you do a sub-par job at work? What are you making it mean when you regret a decision you made years ago?

Most of us make those mistakes mean something terrible about ourselves. We allow ourselves to conclude that we are bad people, less than, failures. Defensiveness and anger are a means to avoid those thoughts and feelings. It is a way to cover them up and distract from what you are really feeling and thinking about yourself.

Life is yin and yang, good and bad.

If you can take full ownership of the uncomfortable parts of life, acknowledge and accept when we mess up, how much easier would life be? What if we could mess up and not torture ourselves for it?

So how do you stop this cycle? First, whenever you feel yourself getting defensive, stop and recognize the parts of the criticism that you believe; recognize the critical thoughts you have had before.

Second, recognize that you are making your failures mean something terrible about yourself. You are beating yourself up every time you aren’t perfect. That is the root of your avoidance. It is why you are getting angry and defensive.

If you can allow yourself to fail gracefully and simply own it when you mess up and not make it mean something negative about yourself, there is nothing to avoid. There is no reason to be angry or defensive.

Could you imagine how my client’s relationship with that partner would change if she was able to respond, “You know what, you’re right, I can do better than this. I apologize and I will use this as a learning experience.”

Commit to believing that every failure is simply one more step on your path to figuring things out. Each time you mess up is another opportunity to learn and grow.

It’s what makes you human and being human means you are never going to be perfect.

How many relationships have we contaminated by being defensive when we knew, deep down, we were in the wrong but didn’t want to admit it?

How many times did we allow our mis-steps to be fodder for self-deprecation?

Stop doing that to yourself. You are a human and that means you come equipped with a certain level of imperfection. Instead of resisting your imperfections, own them, accept them as a part of life and love yourself regardless. Do not resist them and cover them up with anger and defensiveness. It’s not serving you and it’s not true.

Need support? Sign up for a free consultation and take the first step to cleaning up your relationship with yourself and those around you.


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Relationships

Our relationships with the people in our lives are at the root of every challenge in our lives.

Our relationships with others play a significant role in our happiness. How do we improve those relationships and overcome adversity in our relationships?

We simply decide.

When we think about our relationships with others, the “relationship” itself is never really truly defined. What comprises our relationships with others?

I believe that our relationships with others is self-created. Our relationship with other people is something that lives only in our minds. We make decisions about other people. We choose what we want to think about them. From that place we characterize the relationship–good, bad, challenging, irreparable, complete. We make those decisions and “create” the relationship within ourselves. Completely independently of the other person.

Think about it. Have you ever had someone in your life whose understanding of your relationship was completely out of line with your understanding? Think about your former boyfriends or girlfriends. When that relationship ended it is unlikely that you were both in complete agreement about its demise. What is more likely is that one of you thought things were going fine and that nothing needed to change and the other thought the relationship had run its course.

How can it be that two people have such divergent understanding about the same relationship?

Because there is no singular relationships that is shared and agreed upon by both parties.

There are two different relationships as understood by each person. Each person made unique decisions about the relationship’s virtues and drawbacks and interpret the relationship from that perspective.

If that is the case, then it follows that we can simply choose whether or not to have a good relationship with each person in our lives.

We can simply decide whether to believe a relationship has run its course or whether we are in it for the long haul. We simply have to decide.

To be clear, that doesn’t mean that you SHOULD maintain all the relationships in your life or that you should always choose to love the people in your life. You can choose to break up with spouses, friends, and family members if that is your choice. But what I am saying is that there is no inherent “good” or “bad” relationship — we make choices to characterize a relationship one way or the other. We simply have to determine our justification for those choices.

If you want to believe that your boss is a terrible human being who is overly critical, insecure, and passive aggressive, that is your choice. From there you can decide that you don’t want to work at that job anymore or ask for a transfer. But the point is recognizing that you are choosing to think of your boss and your relationship with your boss in that way. It is not inherently true. There is room for dispute and disagreement in your characterization of him.

There is no such thing as just having a “bad boss” as if that were the justification for your poor relationship with your boss.

You are simply choosing to focus your energy on criticisms and judgments of your boss and interpret the relationship through that lens. You could similarly choose to focus on the positive aspects of the relationships or see him through a lens of compassion.

The choice is yours. You can choose to have a good relationship with your boss and operate from that space. That choice will likely require you to see him with more compassion and less judgment than you have in the past. That will require you to stop believing that he is inherently bad and you are a victim.

Take ownership of the relationships in your life and choose how you want to think about them.

Choose what you want to believe about your past relationships and challenging relationships.

Your opinions about others and your relationship with them are not factual. They are your opinions and nothing more. Those opinions will color how you show up in the relationship and the aspects of the relationship you focus on.

If you want to believe that you have a horrible boss and therefore have to leave your job, so be it. But imagine how much you could grow and the skills you could develop if you could learn how to see the relationships differently. If you could choose to believe that you have a good relationship with your boss and act from that place instead?

If you want to have a horrible boss, believing that you do is an assured way to get you that experience. If you want to have a boss that challenges you and helps you become a better employee, the first step is believing that you do and acting from that place instead; interpreting your experience through that lens instead.  Give it a try.

What will it get you if I’m right? What will it cost if I’m not?

Most of the time it is our experiences with other humans that brings most of life’s challenges as well as its high points. Don’t let a “bad” relationship go without first experiencing what it has to teach you about yourself.

If you need some (free) support with a challenging relationship, I would love to visit with you. The work we do with other humans is truly life changing.


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