And with one comment. It was back.

I’ve thought and talked and written about the deep discomfort that ebbs and flows in me with my work.  Well, not my work as such, but the work that I do.  The industry I work in.  The impact we have on lives, as lawyers.

Conflict is normal, and sometimes the people in conflict need help to resolve their disputes.  This is what lawyers are primarily engaged in.  Dispute prevention and dispute resolution.  So our primary purpose is good and honourable.  I’m just not always sure that our system and our work meets that standard.

A good friend has asked me a few times now if my discomfort is guilt.  I don’t think it is.  I think it’s deeper than guilt.  After all, guilt can be sorted with an apology. “sorry about that.  I made a mistake”.  I think my discomfort creeps dangerously close to shame.  Shame is a dark shadow that can overtake so much of ourselves.  All of us have it lurking somewhere.

In recent years, I’ve started to find my groove as a lawyer.  To be precise, not as “a lawyer”, but as the lawyer I am comfortable to be.  I have been finding my most authentic path through an industry that is often excrutiatingly uncomfortable for me.  My path allows me to be comfortable with choosing not to wear suits, to wear as many bracelets as I want, to talk with my clients from my heart and to try new ways of practice.  These choices allow me to stay close to me.  This helps me not to get lost in the maze of mindless lawyering, and to remain connected and mindful about the way that I choose to communicate. I make lots of mistakes, and often get it wrong.  And that’s OK.  I think it matters more that I’m making mistakes on my path, rather than getting it right on the wrong path.  These choices helped set the shame aside as I strode forward in my authenticity.

I met with some colleagues recently for coffee.  We chatted about lots of stuff.  Family.  Friends.  Fun.  Work.   Then this comment, like an electric shock, threw me off my path and back into the shadow of my lawyer shame.  “I like the research.  I like the structured arguments.  But you know the bit where we make out the other person to be something they’re not so our client gets what they want.  I don’t like that”.

I was speechless as my mind yelled “Are you for real?  Is that the game we’re playing?”.  I felt a bit like I was in suspended animation, unable to do or say anything.  And with that one comment, all my lawyer shame was back.

Is that the game I’m playing?  Is informing someone of the factors that are influential and persuasive, and advising them to present those and minimise and work on their weaker factors, is that as dishonest as that other comment felt.  Have I been completely duped by this industry?  Am I just a “liar liar” who doesn’t even know it?

And then this “Nice people can’t be barristers, because they just can’t do their job properly”.  Another speechless moment.  Really?  REALLY?  Some of my most open and wholehearted conversations have been with my barrister friends.  I believe they are nice people and are completely equipped to do their job properly.

So, in discomfort I sit.  Once again.  It’s dark here in the shadow of shame.

Disputes are a tough business to operate in.  Family disputes are a really tough business to operate in.  I really hope that I found a way not to play that game.

I long for work where I feel whole.  I thought I had it in my sights for a while, and now I’m not so sure.  I thank Brene Brown for this badge.  It says so much of what I feel.  Can I work as a lawyer and live my authentic life?  I still don’t know.

K xxx


About Kathryn Hodges

Hi! I'm Kathryn. I have many hats in this life. I am a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother (of 4!), a friend, a keen try-er of yoga, a lawyer, a business owner, an avid reader and a lover of this electronic world and it's connections. As the Principal of a wonderful law firm on the Sunshine Coast, Qld, Australia, I focus on seeing my clients as people going through change and I am committed to practising mindfully that I am dealing with people and their families. Precious stuff, hey! I hope you enjoy learning more about the things that impact on me, my life and my practice. Please leave me a comment, as I'm sure you have something you can show or teach me. We're all in this learning thing, called life, together xx Oh, and my professional obligations mean I have to remind you that my opinions are my own.
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24 Responses to And with one comment. It was back.

  1. Debyl1 says:

    Kathryn you said you found your authentic path and thats what counts.Dont let some cold hearted persons comment give you self doubt.Those kind of people are all around us in all professions.The good you do far outweighs them.
    I remember when I was nursing and I would come across a nurse who didnt give a dam about her patients.It broke my heart and I knew I couldnt change the nursing world but I could change my little part of it and I was determined to be the best nurse I could be.I felt in some way it made up for all the others who didnt have the same compassion.
    I know you put your heart into your work and you can feel proud of that.Just think of the good you do to the lives of the people you touch in your job every single day.That should bring a proud glow to your heart xx

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Thanks Deby!
      Found the comment.
      I really do appreciate the comment. So, maybe I just need to get on with it 🙂
      K xxx

  2. Wayne Slager says:

    Love your heartfelt post Kathryn. Your openness challenges me to do/ be the same. I wish I had some wise, comforting words to add but I don’t. They would fall well short of what you’ve already shared. All I can say at this stage is ‘thanks for sharing’ but that feels rather trite and mushy and lacking in substance. I wanted to respond just because such a post demanded a “hey, Kathryn, you said that very well and I’m feeling for you” rather than see no reply. I’m pleased to know you. Maybe we can chat over a coffee.

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. I really appreciate it.
      Somedays, I wonder if I’m just whining about nothing. And other days I forcefully demand more for me and for my (and the world’s) future. Surely, we can figure out ways to do it (life) better, and with more heart.
      And yes, let’s chat again over coffee soon.
      K x

    • I agree with Wayne! I don’t even know you Kathryn, but I love you! It would be a blessed world if many more of us could have similar compassion, integrity & intelligence, to say nothing of your humanness, & your bravery. Thankyou for the re-minder, which no doubt we could all apply in our respective industries.

      • Kathryn Hodges says:

        I don’t know how to reply to your comment. I am utterly flawed. I make mistakes, I let people down, I have so much more to learn.
        Thank you for giving me another piece of confidence that I can tuck away for those days when I’m worrying too much about those flaws.
        K xxx

  3. Melissa says:

    Wow! I hear you Kath! But please don’t believe that we “make out the other person to be something they’re not so our client gets what they want”. I’ve never done that. I do believe no one looks great under a microscope and I do believe that we all do things that either we do regret or should regret just in day to day living. And part of being a solicitor and barrister is to talk through things with a client and hopefully help the client gain insight – particularly to realise that 1) honesty is essential and 2) it’s better to admit a wrong and learn from it than to mindlessly deny it and not improve as a parent/person. We all have room to improve.

    The shame is not something to own. You do not cause difficulty or throw mud. You are honourable. Believe it. I’ve been on the otherside of your matters and never felt you to be a mud-slinger.

    If you are acting in the best possible way and trying to help not hinder… Feel proud that you are doing your best to improve difficult and sometimes down right horrid situations for people.

    And I truly don’t believe “Nice people can’t be barristers, because they just can’t do their job properly”. Act ethically and honestly and focus on seeking the truth. Some of the nicest, most ethical people I know are brilliant Barristers – and I hope to one day be considered to fall within that number.

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Thanks Mel,
      I just needed to throw it out there. In case, you know, I was playing AFL when everyone else was playing soccer, and I was going to get carded any minute for catching the ball. You know what I mean?
      I can feel the passion in your words, and thanks.
      K x

  4. @KrishnaEverson says:

    Beautiful post Kathryn. I hear what you are saying. I toyed with the idea of studying law but couldn’t reconcile representing a guilty criminal. Of course this is different. I have no doubt that you would always do what’s best in every situation that is just within the framework you have. I know that your empathy and concern will always be there for all parties involved, but that doesn’t mean outcomes are going to suit everyone. That is just how the world works, and there is no shame in that. I think it is awesome you are articulating this. It is a statement of who you are. You care. People matter to you. And that is awesome. xx

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Hi Krishna,
      Thanks for that beautiful comment. Yes, I care. And yet I am part of a system that is not caring, but “rational”. And there is the rub.
      I’m feeling some wonderful encouragement today, which is great. I blogged from the dark, and now feel the sunshine 🙂
      Thanks Krishna for being part of that!

  5. Kathryn I’m not a lawyer but through work have met and liaised with many, your words have given me hope, encouragement and light. Our jobs may be very different but many times I too question myself, then reflect back on situations and deep down know I worked with integrity, honesty and from my heart. Complex stuff human behaviour. I hope we one day get to have a coffee too x

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Oh Nathalie,
      I am always grateful when you make time to pop by, and to comment. You have so much on your plate.
      I have wrestled uncomfortably with the not always easy relationship between our 2 professions, when often we are facing the same intention – to have the best outcome for our client.
      And yes, human behaviour (mine included!!) is complex and astounding and disappointing.
      A coffee together would be wonderful!
      K xx

  6. allpoetryandcreativewriting says:

    Oh Kathryn I feel for you, you ARE one of the most authentic people I know. Please dont stew in the cesspit of shame- you will lose you in there!! Step out, shake yourself off, and shine, girlfriend!!! the world needs YOU!
    (from Julie- Sunshine Coast Remedial Massage. allpoetryandcreativewriting is my ‘other’)
    Love your blog, keep writing!!

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Hi Julie,
      I can feel the loving sunshine of everyone’s encouragement!
      I’m back on MY path, ignoring the way others play the game, and trusting that one day I’ll realise I feel whole in my work.
      Thanks again. I am feeling the love xx

  7. shoesandyoga says:

    Dear Kathryn

    To me you are the ideal of a family lawyer – caring, generous and ethical.

    I could not do what you do. I could not even deal with the duplicity of commercial law.

    You are a gift to the profession. My love and best wishes to you x

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Thanks M.
      I am sort of sick of the grappling, and yet I can’t surrender, and my concerns won’t leave.
      I will keep searching and hoping that one day I will wake up and realize I’m already doing it. My wholehearted work.
      I wish the same for you.
      K xxx

  8. allconsuming says:

    Um, wow.

    Shame is an amazingly powerful emotion, more powerful than love or hate I’d say.

    I remember studying criminology and reading a study which found shame played the greatest part in people acknowledging they had done wrong. Not victim statements or therapy, but people they loved and/or whose opinion they valued – letting THEM down or what THEY thought of their actions held far more sway than anything else.

    But from shame must come growth, acknowledgement and change in behaviour. It strikes me that is exactly what you have done and that in your professional life you strive to operate with a purity of heart many will never achieve.

    Look on the throw-away comment as merely that, as well as a salient reminder to not let your guard slip.


    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      What if the comment isn’t what it sounds like, but rather a reminder for me to stay true. Now that is a thought that gives relief.
      Truly. I appreciate that!!
      K xxx

  9. Dear Katherine,

    The best advice I ever got as a family law attorney for over twenty years was to not care more than the client does about their own life. We did not get people into their difficult circumstances or create the situation people find themselves in when they come to us for help fixing the problem. I completely agree that, like a medical doctor, we try to do no unneccessary harm, but it is not a clean or perfect process. Surgery or yucky medicine risk messy and adverse results, too.

    Your focus on being ethical and considerate of everyone involved, including the often hostile other side, is commendable. I do that, too. Over worry, however, about achieving perfection or about whether something you say may convey less than absolute truth about the opposing party can be debilitating and prevent the help you can give.

    Besides stress about clients, the other stress I have seen ruin careers is worry over the motives and behavior of other attorneys. The workable philosophy I have developed to deal with this is: I choose to believe that the other lawyer is performing their function as an attorney in they way they believe it is appropriate to be an attorney. I forsee and try to head off problematic behaviors from opposing counsel but just work around it the best I can while trying to heal things as much as I can.

    When clients stress about what the other side is doing and what their motives are, I often tell them that I have a hard enough time figuring out my own motives, much less trying to pinpoint the exact motives for something the other side does. The same advice applies for dealing with opposing counsel.

    Best wishes in your practice. I agree with you about being yourself and expressing yourself by wearing what you want (as long as proper respect for the court is shown). Being you and making it clear where you are coming from is most likely to attract the clients who will find your style compatible with their wishes. Take good care. You are not alone in caring about healing more than “winning” the most money or points.

    Melissa Denton

    • Kathryn Hodges says:

      Thanks Melissa,
      I really do appreciate your thoughtful comments. I think you identified a key distinction for me – “caring about healing more than ‘winning’ “. These sorts of distinctions always helps me sort through my thoughts and my feelings.
      Thanks again,
      K xxx

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