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The Grind

By Jim Calloway

An ancient bit of large law firm wisdom was that there were three types of lawyers: finders, minders and grinders.

The first term referred to those rainmakers who were great at new client development. The second term, minders, referred to the law firm leadership, including those who headed up practice groups. And finally there were the grinders — those who spent their days doing the legal work and producing billable hours.

The law is an honored profession. And yet the work of practicing law, like most other jobs, can from time to time be a grind. No matter how much you love your job or you love being a lawyer, there are times when the drive into the office is not filled with happy anticipation.

Life is sometimes a grind for everyone, I think. January and February can feel more like a grind, with colder, dreary weather. The excitement of the holidays is over and it can feel like you are back to the grind.

There is no doubt that there can be a lot of “the grind” in legal work. Proofreading the documents you have prepared is a necessary, but tedious, task. Reviewing a 40-page contract someone else has prepared is worse. (In fact, some sophisticated clients are starting to ask if a 40-page contract is ever required. But that is a conversation for a future time.)

Internet memes have been circulating recently with pictures about what others think you do versus what you actually do. For lawyers, “what I think I do” is usually a picture of Atticus Fitch or Captain America, while “what I actually do” is always a picture of a lawyer buried in stacks of paper or research books. (Yes, books!)

Lawyering can be tough. It is often high-stakes. It requires making tough judgment calls.

The law can be a grind, but it can also include a lot of joy. Take adoption law, for example. It is hard to see how successfully completing an adoption would ever be a grind — especially if you find yourself in the role of personally picking up a baby at the hospital and delivering her to her new parents.

Juries are unpredictable. I have been told by many veteran trial lawyers that obtaining a favorable jury verdict is always a thrill, no matter how many jury trials you have done.

Any favorable or better-than-expected result for a client should be an occasion for joy.

I wish I could give you the secret formula for decreasing the grind and increasing the joy. I wish I could bottle it and sell it.

The feeling of being caught in a grind happens more with repetitive, nonchallenging work than with creative problem solving work or strategic planning. We hear a lot about work/life balance these days. So it’s appropriate to discuss work/work balance as well. Scheduling your day where you have time set aside for the repetitive but also time set aside for creative problem solving and planning is a good idea to keep up your mental energy during the day.

But feeling your work is less of a grind is also about how you react to your environment and your work. When you’re feeling in a rut, give yourself a moment to reflect on some of the high points of the month, week or year.

This includes mentally pulling yourself out of the work environment for a moment. Jay Foonberg, author of many editions of the book How to Start and Build a Law Practice counsels that a lawyer should display photographs of family members, positioned where you can see them, to remind you of the real reason for your work life. That is quite good advice.

Given how hard lawyers work, you also might look at when you last took some time off to relax. The holidays provide us with family time away from work but the holidays are often heavily scheduled. Take care of yourself. You and your staff are the most important tools in “your shop.”

And if you ever have a chance to deliver a newborn baby to its adoptive parents, make sure and allow yourself plenty of time to visit with the family, enjoy the good feelings and appreciate what you’ve accomplished for your clients. You deserve it.

ADDITIONAL READING

As you probably know, I also write the Practice Management Advice column for ABA Law Practice Magazine. As a supplement to this column, I would encourage you to also read my other column “Toward a Less Stressful Workplace”, page 74 in the January/February 2016 issue of Law Practice Magazine.

Mr. Calloway is OBA Management Assistance Program Director.  Need a quick answer to a tech problem or help solving a management dilemma?  Contact him at 405-416-7008, 1-800-522-8065 or jimc@okbar.org.  It's a free member benefit!

Originally published in the Oklahoma Bar Journal -- February 13, 2016 -- Vol. 87, No. 5