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 www.brenebrown.com 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.