Here are some of the factors that hold lawyers back from doing their writing and other work:
*Many lawyers become lawyers because they like to write, but the kind of writing you wind up doing as a lawyer is often more dry and formulaic – not to mention, repetitive – than anticipated.
*Lawyers face rejection constantly, and the rejection is harsh. In one of my classes for writers, a lawyer once mentioned how she sometimes gets briefs returned by a judge with a big, red “Denied” stamp on them: everyone in the room winced.
*With legal work, the stakes are high – sometimes even literally life or death. That kind of pressure naturally leads to perfectionism. Also, legal work by definition yields “winners” and “losers,” and dichotomization (a black/white view of things) is also a trigger for perfectionism.
*Law office operations are often inherently stressful. Long hours and billing in six-minute increments create pressure, which can yield…you got it…perfectionism.
*Society often expresses ambivalence about lawyers, and often in unkind ways. This can cause lawyers to feel ambivalence, and, next to perfectionism, nothing stalls your work more than that.
*Many lawyers face other professional challenges in addition to the above:
-If you’re working in a small practice, you’re facing entrepreneurial challenges (marketing, sales, management and time management) along with the productivity ones.
-If you’re working in a big firm, you’re facing corporate challenges (e.g., office politics and a constant ) not to mention, ongoing pressure to bring in new business.
-If you’re a corporate or organizational counsel, you might be surrounded by nonlawyers. Isolation is not only demotivating, it deprives you of colleagues and mentors that will aid your productivity and career development.
-If you’re doing environmental or another kind of public interest law, you face activist-type challenges along with the entrepreneurial or corporate ones.
*And, of course, lawyers are people, too, and so are prone to the same types of productivity inhibiting personal and professional troubles as everyone else.
Maxine Sushelsky, an Arlington, MA based psychotherapist who treats lawyers, has come up with a great list of “work qualities that make lawyers particularly prone to depression”:
“Long work hours; the competitive nature of the work; the adversarial nature of the work; the requirement for highly focused attention to detail; the extreme repercussions of professional errors; the need to be pessimistic and skeptical, and to be prepared to deal with “worst case scenarios;” responsibility for assisting clients and others who are in crisis or dealing with tragic situations; constant scrutiny of your work by employers, judges and opposing counsel; the reality that your work will directly impact the client’s financial, relationship, liberty and quality-of-life interests; the pressure of deadlines and the potential consequences of missing deadlines; rigid and particularized rules and procedures that must be followed carefully and completely; the need to perform, both in terms of achieving results and being “on-stage” and observed by others in public arenas; the need to advance or defend a position that might conflict with your personal values.”
She also points out that lawyers can be at risk for compassion fatigue, a “secondary trauma” that can when you work with people who themselves have been traumatized. If you think you might be suffering from this, please seek professional help from a therapist or other specialist.
Remember: procrastination is not laziness, lack of willpower, etc.: it’s disempowerment. You’re not missing energy, willpower, commitment, etc., but constrained from using what you already have. Remove the barriers – including those mentioned above – and you’ll regain your energy, etc., and your productivity will soar.
You’ll find detailed solutions to many of the above conundrums in my book The 7 Secrets of the Prolific. For quicker progress, try coaching. If you want me to give a workshop for your law firm or other organization click here.