28 August 2018

Lawyering with Purpose – and why it’s so important

Published on 28 August 2018

Lawyering with purpose. This feels like a sound bite last heard in law school, an ideal worth aspiring to, but certainly one that seems to precede the daily concerns of being a lawyer. However, it is an impulse Paul Gilbert urges lawyers not to resist.

As Chief Executive of LBC Wise Counsel, Gilbert supports in-house legal teams and individual in-house lawyers to develop their strategy and operational efficiencies.  In partnership with Lawyers on Demand, he recently published a report, ‘Lawyering with Purpose’, providing a practical guide for lawyers to recapture and retain a purpose-driven approach to work.


The reality: ‘the least attractive working experience imaginable’

“Despite the fact that today our professional world is dominated by talk of more for less, of being agile and of Artificial Intelligence, nearly all new ideas are predicated, frankly, on de-humanising the workplace,” wrote Gilbert. “As a result, we risk creating the least attractive working life experience imaginable, but we tell our people how wonderful it is to have 24/7 real-time access to everybody’s storm of cc’d emails. However, it is still a world that mostly requires us to work with other people; people like us.”

It is a sentiment with which Paul Cowling, the managing director of Lawyers on Demand (‘LOD’), agrees.

“In what can be such a highly pressurised professional environment, it is critical that lawyers are given the tools and support to allow them to maintain a sense of perspective and to focus on their personal wellbeing,” Cowling told Lawyers Weekly.

Rather than dwelling on ‘corporate cliches’, Gilbert’s pragmatic advice puts the human factor of law in a prime position, one to be supported by technology and new working methods, not subsumed by them.


Be more than resilient

“Resilience may be a good word in some situations, but it gives a free pass to leaders who do not want to contemplate a new way of working and instead invest in a half-day workshop on breathing exercises,” Gilbert wrote. He pushed for lawyers to seriously question the long hours of the job. “How many 70+ hour weeks is fair? Why is it necessary to routinely work far in excess of our contractual hours? Is there an explicit bargain with our employer, or have things become a matter of habit?

“I am not advocating a chaotic disregard for our commitments and the needs of those who rely on us at work. I am only asking you to contemplate being a little more human at work.”


The response from lawyers

Simon Harper, co-founder of LOD, admitted statements like these caused quite a bit of debate among lawyers in the firm.

“Not all of Paul’s suggestions will make you comfortable,” said Simon. “When I first met Paul almost a decade ago I was struck by his willingness to talk about subjects that too rarely come up in the business of law – things like kindness and humour, wellbeing and ethics. In this report we wanted to give Paul a platform to talk about being a lawyer with purpose, a lawyer who looks after their own wellbeing and not solely that of their clients.”

According to LOD managing director Paul Cowling, lawyers who prioritise looking after themselves are far better placed to serve clients and the community well.

“The benefit that balance can bring to professional and personal lives and to the broader community is unquestionable,” said Cowling.

As Paul put it, being a lawyer is not about being a “kick-ass, innovating, paradigm-shifting, award-winning, inspirational ego-jockey.” It is more about how lawyers can better navigate their careers guided by “their values, insight and potential.”


Key takeaways from Lawyering with Purpose

  • Make people central: People are not “cookie-cutter shaped lawyers in shades of grey, they are multi-dimensional, technicolour humans.”

  • Networking should be meaningful: “Networking at its richest and most important is about shared learning, helping out and offering support. It is an extension of your values.”

  • Take control: “Accept that your acquiescence in your current circumstances is partly (at least) to blame. If you can accept this, you are also empowered to at least consider changing the way you work to find a better way for you, your colleagues and those who employ you too.”

  • Be more human: Ask a colleague for help when you need it. Come in late if you need it. Ask your boss if he or she is OK, because you need to see the world through their eyes too – and look out for each other.

  • Be brave about ethics: Value your ethical purpose as a lawyer. Not just the good commercial sense lawyers bring, but the oversight and moral framework alongside business targets.

  • Say no when you need to: “Workloads always increase, but resources rarely increase in line with them. It is not entirely your purpose to please people, be liked or be busy.”


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