Original article as published in The Chicago Bar Association’s blog, @theBar.
I might be the first person to have participated as a panelist for a bar association program from the ICU of a hospital. It raised a few eyebrows in the unit, to be sure. My wife was kind enough to act as a co-conspirator and run interference for me while my doctor was incredulously asking her if I was actually on a conference call in my ICU room while she was guarding the door.
I have been on a lot of panels over the course of my career. However, the topic of this panel discussion struck a deep chord in me.
Our panel [on March 14th] was led by our moderator, Kathy Morris of Under Advisement, Ltd., and a Forbes Coaches Council Member, with fellow panelists Lea Gutierrez, Director of Diversity and Inclusion and Senior Litigation Counsel from the ARDC, and Brendan Cournane, of counsel at Pugh, Jones & Johnson, and a marathoner of notable accomplishments. Together we spoke about a favorite topic . . . how to enjoy practicing law, long term.
The law firm of Carlson Dash, LLC was founded on the notion that we can have it all. That is, to say, we can be exceptional lawyers, we can have fun and enjoy working together, and we can have enough fuel in the tank to be fully engaged at home and not wiped out. Now, I’d be a liar if I said there are not days when one or more of us is completely rung out from a day at the office; there are those days, but gratefully, they are not the norm.
My life experiences tell me that the only way to sustain anything for long is to truly enjoy what you are doing and to enjoy the people and relationships you form while doing it. But, how do you go about enjoying preparing a motion for summary judgment, filing a proof of claim, preparing a warranty deed, or any number of tasks that become almost mind-numbing over time?
It becomes a matter of perspective. When I am heading to work, it is not “going to work.” It is simply a place I go where I can focus on a passion—helping people solve problems. I don’t know when I came to that realization, but I think it had something to do with my father asking me what I was going to do with my law degree. I was, at the time, looking down the barrel at about a hundred thousand dollars in student loans. Money was a bit of a motivating factor, understandably. So, I told him I plan to make a lot of money. He dropped his chin to his chest and slowly shook his head, the disappointment clear to even the casual observer. He finally looked up and said, “son, you should be using that degree to help people and if you are not in it to help people then you are in it for the wrong reason.”
Helping people work through problems is also an easy way to explain what I do for a living to my kids, who did not readily understand the words, let alone the concepts, of the more detailed answer of creditor-based corporate insolvency law when they were younger.
How do we maintain a culture of enjoying what we do at the firm? We do not take ourselves too seriously, while at the same time, we each have a deep level of appreciation that we are trying to help real people find real solutions to real problems. We use our wits and sense of humor to both stay sharp and keep things light and lively. Through storytelling and sharing the problems with our colleagues, we engage in all kinds of exchanges and banter that, more often than not, spawn new ideas and new approaches. I firmly believe that humor helps to keep us healthy and taps into our creativity. So, while we are having fun, laughing and enjoying ourselves, we are also testing one another, challenging each other and our thinking about things, and opening our minds up to various perspectives and points of view. It is much like the way comedians crave improv and playing off fellow comedians. They find it opens up their mind to variations they never would have considered on their own.
It is fulfilling, it is enjoyable, and it hardly feels like work. It is sometimes so much fun that tracking time becomes a bit of a challenge, and that is a level of enjoyment that is quite sustainable.