Law as a Transformational Journey

The only way my “career” in law makes any sense is if I view it from the perspective of it having followed a path designed by someone other than the “I” that looks back at me when I look in the mirror. And as it turns out, the purpose of this career may have had less to do with the practice of law than the journey into myself that it has afforded me.

Even my entry into the field arguably transcended the normal path. There I was a final semester pre-med student, ready to go to medical school, with a long history of hospital work behind me when I found myself unable to leave a room for nearly a full day where there was nothing to do or to read except Fuller on Contracts.

Dry as most people might have found it—lawyers and law students included—its effects on me were immediate: excitement at the discovery of the enlightened thought process that legal reasoning encompasses, a respect for the societal progression that jurisprudence represents in the Common Law tradition, and an intense passion for the combination of science and art that law is.

Unfortunately, I felt no such excitement, respect, or passion for the life I was heading for in the field of medicine, so I made a quick and very abrupt change, which few people understood at the time, most notably, my parents. I expect, however, that some of you do.

There was something about the precision of law and, at the same time, the imprecision of the grinding of its wheels that appealed to me. It still does. (I continue to take great pleasure in providing several plausible explanations—in language anyone can understand—as to why a media-reported result in a huge lawsuit or a celebrity criminal case just might make sense when it seems so senseless at first blush.)

Nevertheless, understanding the ramifications of statutes, court decisions, and legislative history, while necessary and laudable, is not what my legal career has been about, although that has not always been clear to me. God knows, when I was practicing I did my best to understand the law and how it would operate for the benefit of my corporate clients. Clearly my career wasn’t about becoming a top expert in some field of law. I’m not now, and I’m sure I never have been.

The truth is the only way my “career” in law makes any sense is if I view it from the perspective of it having followed a path designed by someone other than the “I” that looks back at me from a mirror.

In any event, when I look back on my career as a lawyer and more recently as “not a lawyer,” the only thing I see that integrates it all is the fact that it’s my life. I’ve lived it having gone through the transformational experience we call “law school,” and in my case, that transformational experience also happened to be the first one of which I have any consciousness. As you know if you’re reading this magazine (and particularly if you’ve gotten this far into this article), transformational experiences are not easily forgotten and they can be habit-forming.

But, as it turned out, I left the practice of law about ten years ago to follow a new passion: providing people the tools they need to bring more of themselves into their workplaces regardless of where they work.

Well, regardless of where they work with one notable exception. I haven’t done programs for lawyers and law firms. Not that I would turn down work from a lawyer or a law firm, but, since I haven’t marketed to law firms or lawyers, the likelihood that I would be called upon to practice my passion for a group of lawyers in any setting wasn’t likely to happen. So unlikely, in fact, that it never has.

This does not surprise me; it’s fact, pure and simple, and I can now see the reasons why that’s the way it unfolded even if those reasons were not apparent to me earlier. (I’d bet, too, that removing the “J.D.” designation from my name and not telling prospective clients that I had practiced law for nearly a quarter century might have had something to do with it.)

Oh, there was the occasional attorney who found himself in one of my programs because he was the general counsel or a staff lawyer for an organization where I was making a presentation. At some point it would dawn on him or her that I was trained as an attorney, or circumstances would suggest that I share it with the group, so I would.

Without exception, every lawyer who heard me speak or read my books told me that they were dealing with the same or very similar issues in their workplaces and careers and that they found my insights and questions both helpful and thought provoking. Indeed, for several years now, I’ve had regular correspondence with the City Attorney for a large Bay Area city after I facilitated an offsite for the city’s executive management team of which he is a part. He writes to me nearly every time he receives my electronic newsletter, and we then have a dialogue of three or four rounds of email discussing several aspects of what I had to say and what he wants to contribute. This guy is one of the most personally and socially evolved people I know, and perhaps that’s the reason I didn’t make the connection that there are hundreds, thousands, or perhaps even tens of thousands more lawyers just like him with the same interest in transforming themselves and society. I figured, like me, he was just some sort of anomaly in the world of law and lawyers. When you’re not listening, you’re not listening.

I think I was the victim of and an unwitting disseminator to the belief that lawyers are soulless. Indeed, I think I believed that by virtue of having been a lawyer myself I had irretrievably lost some of my own soul. And that certainly was something I would want to hide from clients coming to me for “soulful” work.

I remember explaining to a professional speaking colleague who also happens to be a lawyer that the reason I didn’t use my J.D. designation in my speaking career was that I was certain no one would seek advice about being more authentic or living a balanced life from a lawyer. Not surprisingly, she agreed that that was probably the case.

So, here and now, I want to publicly apologize for that belief, the assumptions, the attitude, and the arrogance they all represent before I do anything else. (Once in a while I do realize that letting my ego steer the course toward a hoped-for less egocentric state is probably not a good idea. And, at the point of those realizations, there’s always some clean-up work to do. But, as I said earlier, if you’ve gotten this far, you probably already know that, too.)

What has changed is that I realized just a few months ago that sharing my passion for authenticity and life balance with others who have been though Law Transforming Your Life 101 is what I need and want to be doing. So, here I am.

And that choice seems to have put me into some kind of “groove” or “flow” that the Universe likes because suddenly opportunities to interact with lawyers and law firms are popping up without my having to do much legwork. Indeed, even the request by the publisher of this magazine, J. Kim Wright, to write a regular column on transformation for lawyers came seemingly out of nowhere.

So, here’s what I propose: I’ll do my best every issue to share with you the stories and insights from my life and the lives of others in terms of the transformative aspects of being part of this great enterprise called law. Those stories will come from the past, the present, and the future as new experiences and insights present themselves. Your job is to show up and let us know what’s happening with you in this arena by sharing with us your stories of law and transformation. At the core of it all, we are our stories.