Out With The Old, In With The New

I find great joy, satisfaction, and fulfillment practicing law. This was not always the case. After law school, I worked as a general litigation associate at a prestigious Houston law firm. Though I enjoyed the company of my fellow law firm associates, I hated the law firm environment. I constantly felt besieged by opposing counsel, supervising partners, and even my own clients. Near the end of my tenure at the firm, I would feel my chest constrict alarmingly, each morning, the moment the elevator doors opened onto the 18th floor. I described my job to anyone who would listen as “soul-crushing.”

I escaped by seizing an opportunity to work as in-house counsel for one of my hospital clients. But after a few years in my new position, I still felt frustrated and emotionally burdened by my work. So, I resigned from my hospital position and quit practicing law entirely to become a writer. I had fantastical aspirations of writing the next great American novel whose heroine, a burned-out law firm associate, would defy the evil corporate-doers and better the world through her legal prowess.

In 2008, I completed a crummy first-draft of my novel. But instead of toiling alone editing and rewriting the messy pages of my book, I procrastinated by becoming more involved in my community. I began helping others and local nonprofits on legal issues. I gradually took on more and more work drafting and negotiating contracts, advising on employment matters, and working on nonprofit governance issues.

Working this way -- directly with clients in genuine need of legal counsel -- I realized that I actually enjoyed practicing law. In fact, I had missed it. I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of researching legal questions and synthesizing complex ideas and information. And I enjoyed helping clients navigate the legal minefield of relevant laws and regulations governing their activities. After all those years of eschewing the practice of law, I discovered that I could derive great satisfaction and fulfillment from helping others identify and solve their legal problems.

I am now employed as a senior associate with Maier Law Group, a boutique labor and employment law firm. And though I must once again account for my time in six-minute increments, I approach my practice of law with an entirely different mindset than I did when I first started twenty years ago. Back then, I primarily concerned myself with how my employer, colleagues, and clients could best enrich me and my professional development. Since then, my mindset has shifted entirely to focus on how I can best serve others through the practice of law. And not just how I can best serve clients, but also all the other people I encounter in my practice -- fellow attorneys, support staff, colleagues, and my employer. This significant change in attitude has allowed me, at long last, to cultivate a genuine sense of joy and meaning in the practice of law.

Of course, such a shift in perspective is not as easy as flipping a wall switch. During my years of not practicing law, I read numerous philosophy and mindfulness books. I learned about how kindness and compassion can effectuate profound change in both one’s own life and the lives of others. I learned the importance of taking care of myself and my own emotional needs so that I can better serve and empathize with others. I attended lectures and workshops on how to find joy and fulfillment in life. And I wrote pages and pages synthesizing all I had read and learned, trying to figure out how it could be applied to my own life.

I am still very much on this journey, and I do not suggest, for a minute, that I have any definitive answers. I am eager to gain more insight and wisdom from others, which is why I was inspired to form this group in San Francisco. So that we can come together and share our own insights and experience about finding contentment and fulfillment in our law practice and personal lives. A place where we can have open conversations about our respective struggles to transform the many joy-killers of legal life  into joy creators.

If this topic intrigues or interests you, please join us in this conversation. We welcome your voice and perspective as we explore, together, ways that we can cultivate and sustain a sense of joy and fulfillment in our law practices and our personal lives.


Brittny Bottorff is an attorney with Maier Law Group and practices employment and privacy law in northern California.