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New year, time to thrive

Surely lawyers would thrive if they worked in an environment that animated them with a genuine sense of purpose, which puts their needs as professionals at the centre of its vision, writes Nick James from Optim Legal.

Surely lawyers would thrive if they worked in an environment that animated them with a genuine sense of purpose, which puts their needs as professionals at the centre of its vision, writes Nick James from Optim Legal.


Holiday season is over and lawyers are returning to their workplaces. Holidays are a time of reflection, of still moments, a time when, even if for a short while, we take stock and look over the past year. We think about how our lives are progressing and how we would like this next year to be different from the last.


For many lawyers, if statistics and anecdotes are to be believed, the return to their places of work will not be a happy one. Unhappy lawyers, in a search for alternatives, will begin to look at other law firms, or to an in-house role and many will even explore the idea of leaving the profession altogether. 


Lawyers, as a rule, are a group of people stubbornly and tenaciously driven by a sense of excellence and achievement. It is this drive that sits at the centre of the current management system of our leading top tier firms: the partnership model. It is the drive to rise to a certain standard of professional competence and then to achieve the recognition of one day being made Partner. 


Because lawyers want to be the best at what they do, they have a tendency to be good at weathering adversity and to also make the best of the situation they are in. In order to do this they will often be prepared to sublimate almost all other concerns or aspirations. When this no longer becomes a comfortable activity, a person is left with a gnawing, persistent feeling of dissatisfaction. 


What is it that we, as lawyers, have left behind in order to achieve our goals in our current workplaces?


Is it a sense of self-determination, of being genuinely in control of the direction of our day-to-day lives? Is it the desire to be evaluated and rewarded according to our results rather than politics and the opinions of other senior individuals? Is it being forced to give up too many hours of our time to achieve what we want to achieve? Or is it even the fact of being evaluated primarily according to our hours billed rather than how effectively we have served our clients’ interests? 


Is it a question of purpose and values? The ultimate meaning and goal behind all of the effort we expend in our career. Whether what we actually stand for is expressed through our career choices and whether our organisation allows us to work in directions which reflect and bring us closer to our values?


Is it being stuck in an environment where we are too closely tied to and constricted by the collective? Where we as individuals simply aren’t able to change the things we don’t agree with and which have a direct, day-to-day impact on the quality of our working experience? 


Surely we could all be even better lawyers if the conditions we worked under connected us with our colleagues in ways that better served what we are actually looking for in a workplace. Surely we lawyers would thrive if we worked in an environment which animated us with a genuine sense of purpose: Which put our needs as people and professionals at the centre of its vision.


Then we could be the best at what we do and work towards a meaningful life at the same time. 


Nick James is the founder and Director of the Sydney-based law firm Optim Legal. He is an alumnus of two top tier firms and was an Associate to Justice Michael Kirby at the High Court of Australia. Comments can be left online or sent privately to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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