Small Law Firms

The Practice: Fun and Happiness in the Practice of Law

There’s lots of misery in our profession. Much of it occurs because lawyers didn’t realize that the practice is not like some television show glamorizing our daily lives. We are also a miserable bunch because many of us do the same thing every day, we hate what we do every day, and we deem it useless. Even if you’re one of those rare lawyers who loves what they do, you stand the risk of being around the miserable ones.

I love what I do. I don’t love it every day, and like everyone else on the planet, occasionally think about doing something else. There are days when, like everyone else, I have to deliver bad news to a client, or wonder if every conversation I am having is a conspiracy to cause me to jump out a window.

So because I love what I do and love you all so very much, I thought I’d give you some thoughts about how to actually enjoy lawyering….

I know you may be stuck in a job because of the salary and your lack of ability or desire to run your own shop. If you’re beholden to the job, then you have to do what you are told. You can’t work on the cases you want, and you don’t have much freedom, so don’t expect much from me on this issue. Perhaps you can focus a little on some pro bono work where you can actually help a client do more than move to compel discovery.

This leads me to what I think is the most important factor in finding happiness in the practice — enjoying the satisfaction your clients get from your work.

Example: The other day I completed and filed a lengthy document for a local client. I emailed it to the client and received the following response:

“Good job, want to get a beer?”

I assumed this was one of those invitations to do something at some point that would be put off and never happen.

“Sure, let me know when.”

“I can leave in 10 minutes.”

It was 3:30.

Oh the horrors. This was not on my synched calendar. There were more hours to bill clients, make phone calls, and write, write, write. How could I imagine doing this?

And there I was, 15 minutes later, talking about all kinds of stuff — work, kids, life. I saw the relief on his face that my work was completed. I sensed his appreciation. The chicken wings were pretty good too. Whatever I had to do could wait until the next day. This was a time to take a breath, and be in the presence of what my work is really all about — affecting the lives of clients.

I sometimes do this with the delivery of good news as well. I’ve been known to walk or drive over to a local client’s office to show them the letter I just received regarding their case. The story is not the news, it’s “and my lawyer actually came over to tell me.” This is something I do for the client, and myself. That’s right — sometimes it’s okay to be a little selfish. Ask a florist the favorite part of their job and they’ll tell you it’s seeing the look on people’s faces when they receive flowers. If you still don’t get this — and I know some of you don’t — here, watch this. Most of you are Bob Sugar.

But you don’t do anything in which you would ever imagine celebrating with a client in person, or taking the time to deliver good news in a method other than a .3 email? You sit at home and pump out documents for people you’ve never met, or you have a practice where there’s never anything for which to be happy (other than the check every two weeks)? Here’s my advice for you — maybe you heard it in elementary school — make better choices.

I’m off next week. Lawyers like me take vacations. It gives us time to enjoy our lives and appreciate why we do what we do. Maybe you’ll have an unscheduled beer with a client at some off time, or actually go see a client in person to tell them good news. I doubt it.

Brian Tannebaum will never “get on board” at the advice of failed lawyers who were never a part of the past but claim to know “the future of law.” He represents clients, every day, in criminal and lawyer discipline cases without the assistance of an Apple device, and usually gets to work (in an office, not a coffee shop) by 9 a.m. No client has ever asked if he’s on Twitter. He can be reached at

(hidden for your protection)

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