"Lawyers, I suppose, were children once."
At least, those were the famous words of Charles Lamb, and English critic, poet, and essayist of the 1800s. The quotation was thought-provoking enough to make it into the preface of a famous novel, and it continues to haunt modern lawyers as they accept the realities of their profession.
"When you are a child, you have a vision of right and wrong. When you are a lawyer, the dream is gone and you fight for your paycheck, whether it is right or wrong," a blogger mused. "The quote is an example of how lawyers used to believe that justice and fair play would prevail, but the harshness of the world has changed their views to mere cynicism," argued another.
Pat Sullivan, a freelance writer with deep roots in the legal profession, offered a similar story about the effects law practices have on attorneys.
"A business consultant wrote in one of his books that when he came home from the office, his young daughter first ran to meet him, but then started screaming. The child's mother tried to comfort her, replying, 'It's OK, honey. Daddy still has his work face on'."
Sullivan and her husband, John, recently created the Spirit and Work Resource Center at Unity in Berkeley, Calif. Since January of 2006, the Sullivans have been conducting monthly spirit and work gatherings at Unity of Berkeley, focusing on the positive sides of employing creativity, compassion, integrity, and a sense of meaning and purpose to deal effectively with challenges.
"Lawyers are stressed and ethically challenged," Sullivan continued. "So are HR managers and anyone else who deals with money – accountants, bankers, medical professionals. Everyone," she said.
Sullivan stated that a strong moral compass helps lawyers in particular, to remain focused in morally corrupt times. Home-grown values and principles foster a positive perspective, she believes, and those qualities rarely pop up in today's scholastic environment.
"I have heard no stories of how law school has helped lawyers structure integrity in their practice or their lives," Sullivan began. "However, I have met numerous attorneys who model the best of others – ethical, kind, respectful, and effective."
Sullivan believes that most lawyers get into trouble because they try to be perfect, which she claims is an impossible mission. Further, most therapists and spiritual practitioners will say those who feel they must have perfection in their lives are wildly egotistical.
"I've been in firms where the drive for perfection turned into insanity," Sullivan continued. "Lawyers look for every possible fact, every possible angle, every possible document, etc. The result is they are overwhelmed with facts and tasks, so much so that there is no time for refection or thought about the case."
Sullivan described the nothing-is-ever-good-enough types as legal dragons; fire breathers who scream that associates or assistants could have done more, could have done better, or could have done something faster. Describing their verbal weapon as a "paralyzing icy breath", Sullivan remarked that some lawyers dwell on the possibility that every decision could be the wrong one.
A second childhood of freedom surfaces, though, when an attorney is able to make peace with these demons. This type of attorney is one who is able to accept an occasional loss, finds relief in relinquishing worries for another day or to a higher power. The art of losing, Sullivan said, has a powerful influence in the lives of driven professionals. By accepting results as they come, people achieve excellence at work, which then leads to excellence in life.
As Sullivan writes on her Web site, people were born loaded with potentials: curiosity, imagination, intuition, a sense of wonder, a hunger to explore the world matched with patience, and the willingness to tolerate ambiguity. Rather than being helped to develop these under-valued natural gifts, boys and girls were probably taught to quash them, usually by the end of first grade. Fortunately, Sullivan says, those quashed potentials are still alive, and it's never too late to reawaken them and put them to satisfying use.
Charles Lamb would have been the perfect candidate for Sullivan's training. After all, he was the one who said, "My theory is to enjoy life, but the practice is against it."
Brown is the managing member of The Write Word, LLC, a professional writing and editing agency based in Charleston.