Each law firm is unique but many share common traits. Law firms are intense places; they demand a lot of time; they expect no mistakes; they are hierarchical; and they are populated mostly by assertive, bright, knowledgeable and driven people. The following constructs describe some of the variations in lawyers’ experience of law firm life:
Some lawyers at firms find their place and their people. These lawyers receive cover and mentoring, and such mentoring can help render the rigors of law firm life more tolerable, and even enjoyable, as mentored lawyers may feel more valued, protected, connected and hopeful about their future at the firm. The absence of such connection and mentoring in contrast can render law firm life isolating and difficult to tolerate.
Some lawyers find meaning in their work at law firms: The meaning that comes from developing mastery in an area of the law; from the recognition by others of such mastery; from an enjoyment of argumentation and winning cases; from belonging to a law firm known to be superlative; from earning a high income; from testing one’s own limits for performance under pressure; among other possible meanings. For those lawyers however who experience less of such meaning, law firm work may leave them feeling drained and doubtful.
Law firms can take up much of a lawyer’s day-to-day energies and time. The pressures and interpersonal dynamics of law firms can challenge lawyers’ ability to maintain their perspective and to keep in mind personal values and what is in their interest. Therapy sessions can be a place to reconnect with some of those values and interests.
Some lawyers appear as if they were made for law firm life and seem energized by the law firm workplace. For others, one or more aspects of that life can feel unrelentingly effortful. Some of those experiences may be aggravated by perceptions that are not quite accurate, and in such cases, therapy can be helpful in addressing these perceptions and in alleviating distress. It is also possible however that a certain law firm environment or the work at that law firm is not a good fit. This is something that can also be explored and addressed in therapy.
Anxiety is part of law firm life to some extent for most lawyers at law firms. Some lawyers however experience that anxiety more acutely and more regularly than others. Learning to cope effectively with anxiety is an important aspect of working at law firms; it is however also important for lawyers to recognize when the intensity or frequency of their anxiety begins to impair functioning.
Though anxiety is in general an uncomfortable experience, anxiety can also reflect important physiological and psychological information about the self and the environment. In addition to developing coping skills for anxiety, it may also be helpful to decode in therapy the information that anxiety is transmitting.