Making Your Hours Matter More

People have a fundamental need to do something meaningful with their lives, says Viktor Frankl, and I agree. Some recent events have brought this home in a way that makes me especially grateful for my own career transitions.    

When I started practicing law, I thought I would add value to the world by being a good advocate and seeking justice for my clients.  Too often, I felt instead like a hired gun, with only a hazy rationale for my hard work.  Many lawyers end up feeling this way.  One critical problem with law firm’s billable hour requirements is that they tend to conflate time with value.  What would you find if you started accounting to yourself for your time, instead of your firm or an external client?

Finding something personally rewarding in your past or present work can help spark a great career transition.  As a litigator, I loved counseling, but not the adversarial process.  Now, as a writer, professor and career counselor, I spend most of my time doing work that satisfies my need for meaning.  It has entirely changed my view of work and my general happiness level (through the roof!).  Other ex-lawyers who enjoy counseling include Will and Van; many more are profiled in Life After Law

But there is more to life than meaningful work.  Freeing yourself from the billable hour minimum gives you more time for everything else you care about.    

On Patriot’s Day five years ago, I was in the office, editing a motion for summary judgment.  On Patriot’s Day this year, I was on the Boston Marathon route.  As my four year old daughter watched the wheelchair racers go by, we talked about how some people achieve amazing things despite enormous setbacks.  Seeing this in action helped her understand it more concretely than any of our earlier talks.  Later, I joined a friend running for The Schwartz Center.  We were heading towards Boston when the police turned us back.  Bombs at the finish line, they said.  It made no sense at first, and then we heard the police officer’s radio  – something I haven’t yet gotten out of my head.  But this day mattered to me.  I helped my daughter, and I hope I helped my friend.  I was part of something larger than a case.

Does your billable minimum get in the way of what matters in your life?  If so, maybe it’s time to step back and reevaluate who the client really is here.  My advice is not to let anyone deprive you of the experiences that give shape, color, and value to your life.  Not even you.

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