Jan 29, 2008

Career Satisfaction

My American Bar Association electronic newsletter came today, and it linked me to an interesting interview with Michael Melcher, author of The Creative Lawyer: A Practical Guide to Authentic Professional Satisfaction (ABA 2007). I have not read the book, but the interview is very interesting. It touches on a number of themes I see as crucial for the Christian lawyer to address.

Read the interview. Here are my thoughts on the first question: "What unique challenges do lawyers face in finding satisfaction in their careers?"

This is an important question, given the immense dissatisfaction in the profession. His answer is basically four-fold:
  1. When lawyers apply their learned and naturally detachment and skepticism to career development, they quash creative solutions;
  2. Lawyers fail to develop an identity apart from their work;
  3. Lawyers fail to "network" with those outside the profession; and
  4. There is "a certain amount of negativity" in the profession.
I think the last one is a bit general, but he is certainly onto something with the "skepticism and detachment" that is bred in law school-- if we don't carefully guard and manage it, it oozes into all that we do, even outside the law. Former Cornell Law dean Roger Cramton argued thirty years ago that this thoroughgoing skepticism is part of the Ordinary Religion of the Law School Classroom, and that its consequences for the profession were severe.

As I point out in Redeeming Law, the question of the lawyer's identity is also a key issue in developing one's calling to the glory of God. Melcher is correct that lawyers often "lack a deep sense of who they are apart from their jobs."

I think this is part of the fragmentation that we see everywhere. Neither family, faith, nor community is relevant to who I am as a lawyer. Therefore, young lawyers who have poured their souls into law school, at the expense of developing a "whole" self, are defined by their work. I would add that this fragmentation and isolation is encouraged by law school, by professional training, and by the modern world that disengages the sacred from the secular, facts from values, and religion from work.

Melcher's third point also rings true from a Christian perspective: Lawyers, like everyone else, are only alive as particular parts in a larger body. Without ministry to and from others in and outside the body of Christ, lawyers are not participants in the vibrant ministry of the body. A fulfilled law practice is one that takes part in a diversity of service within the diverse depths of a community.

1 comment:

  1. My first dozen years of practice were "BC." I enjoyed the practice a lot and life a little. Then AD, with a mind awakened, life took on real meaning and satisfaction with the practice fading to a sensible focus. Real integration took place when the priorities of the practice fell several notches and God, spouse, children and church crowded it into its proper place. And . . . I truly believe my deliveries of services of value increased markedly. Suddenly things fit better than ever before. Instead of making things happen, I let them happen and enjoyed it more.

    I have to agree that fragmentation was BEFORE, although the single mindedness and concentration before made it seem that it was then "all of a piece." Somewhat more reconciled to God, to self, to others and to the world brought noticable wholeness and integration--even shalom in its richest sence. I dread to think of where I would be if left on the old track.