Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 18, January 2002

Issue 18, January 2002

  • The Key to Success: Doing the Work and Living the Life You Love

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

Issue # 18
The Key to Success: Doing the Work and Living the Life You Love


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1. The Key to Success: Doing the Work and Living the Life You Love

2. Upcoming Bar Association Presentations - Williamsburg, VA; Austin, TX; Richmond, VA; Washington, D.C.; Madison, WI


ARTICLE SUMMARY: Choosing work that you enjoy, in which you are genuinely interested and which expresses the best in you is necessary for the hard work and determination required for a successful legal career. Work/life balance, a network of supportive social connections and a sense of meaning and purpose are also essential ingredients for success.



Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor

Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life



Most attorneys -- especially women -- live impossibly busy lives. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.

Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.

This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.


1. The Key to Success: Doing the Work and Living the Life You Love

As an attorney, simply reading the title of this article probably caused you to raise an eyebrow. Everything you've learned in law school and legal practice has taught you that the key to success is hard work. Long hours, selfless devotion to work, never making mistakes, finding a way to do what the client wants, and - perhaps most of all - winning are touted as the most important ingredients for a successful legal career.

Of course you need to work hard to be successful. But what few people tell you is that there are certain conditions that lend themselves to the kind of focus necessary for excellence in the law, while other conditions hinder it and make success elusive.

Here is a list of optimal conditions for success in your legal career:

1. Articulate Your Own Personal Definition of Success

Your firm and your clients will be happy to define success for you - but it will be in their best interests, not yours.

What do you want to accomplish in your work and in your life?

Our definitions of success change as we move through our lives and careers - so be sure to keep updating your definition.

As law firm management guru David Maister says, "Many professionals are too busy worrying about their firm's performance criteria to figure out what success really means to them. They don't take the time to ask 'What do I really want to accomplish during the next stage of my career? What would truly satisfy me.'" (1)

2. Do Work You Genuinely Enjoy

How long can you work hard at something you don't enjoy? Enthusiasm and passion motivate hard work. Genuine interest sustains focused attention. Working with clients you enjoy means you sincerely want to help them - and nothing sells services more effectively than genuine concern and interest.

When you work at something you love, it's easy to be disciplined and determined. Psychological research on "intrinsic motivation" indicates that people whose work is self-directed experience more genuine interest, excitement and confidence in their work. Furthermore, doing work you enjoy results in better performance, greater persistence and creativity and provides a sense of general well-being. (2)

Mihaly Csikszenthmihalyi's work on the "flow" experience indicates the value of this experience in our work. (3) "Flow" is an experience of total, unselfconscious involvement, seemingly effortless performance, when we are so committed to the task that we lose track of time. We are likely to experience "flow" in our work when it involves a difficult task at a level of challenge matching our skills, and when we know what needs to be done because the goals are clear and feedback is immediate. When we experience our work as the full expression of what is best in us, then it is rewarding and enjoyable.

3. Seek Rewards Other Than Money

Research reveals that the more people strive for extrinsic goals such as money the less well-being they experience and the more problems they have.

Money really doesn't buy happiness (although it does pay off law school loans.) In affluent countries like the U.S., the relationship between income and personal happiness is weak.

Good and bad events temporarily influence our mood: lottery winners feel a temporary jolt of joy, as do you when you earn a significant bonus. But because of our capacity to adapt, yesterday's luxuries become today's necessities. The fact is, except for the very poor, people whose incomes have increased over the past 10 years are not happier than those whose incomes have not increased.(4)

4. Develop and Maintain Close Relationships

Developing a supportive network of deep social connections is the single most health-protective and success-insuring thing you can do. People supported by close relationships are less vulnerable to illness and premature death, cope better with stress and are less likely to become depressed.

A number of surveys indicate that lawyers are four times more likely to be depressed than the public at large and have the highest rate of depression of any professional group. High levels of stress are reported by almost 3/4 of lawyers and this results in damage to the physical health or emotional well-being of 1/3 of these attorneys. Approximately 20% of lawyers have a substance abuse problem - twice the rate of the general population. (5) There are estimates that substance abuse is a factor in up to 75% of all disciplinary complaints involving lawyers. (6)

In contrast to those who are depressed, happy people are less self-focused, less hostile and abusive, less vulnerable to disease, more loving, forgiving, trusting, energetic, decisive, creative, sociable and helpful.

People are happier when they are attached than when they are unattached. Married people are more satisfied with life and happier than people who are divorced, separated or never married. They are also less likely to experience depression.

Patrick Schiltz (7) reviews research indicating that the divorce rate for lawyers is higher than the rate for other professions and that divorced women lawyers are significantly less likely to remarry than other women professionals.

Increasing billable hours requirements and the resulting "time famine" are most often cited as the reason for the relatively high rates of reported lawyer dissatisfaction. In particular, attorneys complain of having little or no time for themselves or their families. (8) The lawyers I coach certainly echo these ABA statistics.

Workaholism and a drive for even greater compensation will never fill the emptiness left by the absence of meaningful relationships.

Obviously, you can't develop deep intimate relationships if you spend all of your time working. Taking the time to maintain supportive and close connections with others is necessary for the energy and well-being you need to achieve career success.

While it is up to firms to make significant changes in their profit-driven structures, you need to remain clear about the relative value money has for you - independently of your firm's goals.

Flexible schedules and balanced hours policies will allow you to establish a better equilibrium between addressing work challenges and maintaining close relationships. But consistent lobbying for change will be necessary to convince most firms to institute policies that really work.

Living according to your values may mean making difficult choices for the sake of your happiness and well-being. But if your personal definition of success doesn't rank money first, then the connection between happiness and success is easier to see.

5. Live a Life of Meaning and Purpose

Many lawyers chose to go to law school because they wanted to help people, work for justice, or produce social change.

Emotional well-being appears to be related to finding meaning in something beyond pure self-interest. Some people find this by practicing a faith. Others work toward goals that have meaning for them.

Examine what it means to you to be a lawyer and a professional. Although much has been written about the commercialization of the legal profession and the resulting loss of professionalism, there are still many attorneys who retain a strong sense of ethics, fairness and justice.

* Treating clients and colleagues with dignity and respect is a reflection of your sense of fairness.

* Fighting for policies in your firm that create truly equal opportunities for success for women and lawyers of color is an expression of your sense of justice.

* Maintaining sufficient independence from clients to enable you to provide wise counsel as opposed to feeling like a "hired gun" will allow you to maintain your professional ethics.

If you examine every choice under the light of whether you, your family or your children would feel proud of you if you committed this action, your life would have meaning and purpose.

It's not easy to live a purposeful life in today's competitive world, full of 24/7 demands, overwhelming choices and single-minded emphasis on material gain.

A professional coach can help you clarify your values and priorities and maintain your focus on these to enable you to do work that expresses

the best in you and make choices to do what you believe is right. After all, isn't this what success is ultimately about?


1. Maister, David H. (1997) "True Professionalism: The Courage to Care About Your People, Your Clients, and Your Career." New York: The Free Press. p. 32

2. Ryan, Richard M. & Deci, Edward L.(2000) "Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being." "American Psychologist," Vol. 55 (1), 68-78.

3. Gardner, H., Csikszenthmihalyi, M. & Damon, W. (2001). "Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet." New York: Basic Books.

4. Myers, David G. (2000) "The funds, friends and faith of happy people." "American Psychologist," Vol. 55 (1), 56-67.

5. Rhode, Deborah L. (2000) "In the Interests of Justice: Reforming the Legal Profession." New York: Oxford University Press.

6. Sells, Benjamin. (1994) "The Soul of the Law." Boston: Element.

7. Schiltz, Patrick J. (1999) "On being a happy, healthy, and ethical member of an unhappy, unhealthy, and unethical profession." "Vanderbilt Law Review, " Vol. 52 (4), 872-951.

8. American Bar Association (1991) "At the Breaking Point: The Report of a National Conference on the Emerging Crisis in the Quality of Lawyers' Health and Lives, and its Impact on Law Firms and Client Services.


2. Upcoming Bar Association Presentations

Ellen will be presenting at: Virginia Bar Association Annual Meeting Colonial Williamsburg "21st Century Professionalism: A Balanced Life vs. The Bottom Line" January 18, 2002

Travis County Bar Association Annual Meeting Austin, Texas "Strategic Career Management" February 8, 2002

Virginia State Bar Young Lawyers Conference Richmond, Virginia "Work & Family: Meeting Your Professional and Personal Needs" March 16, 2002

Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia Working Parents Forum

Washington, D.C. "Marketing Yourself Into a Reasonable Work Environment" April 10, 2002

State Bar of Wisconsin Annual Meeting Madison, WI "Creating Satisfaction Within the Practice of Law" May 16, 2002


BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach. is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.

Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.

She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the Mentor Coach Program.


NOTE: BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.



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Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
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