By Jan Pudlow
Imagine this is your obit: “John Smith billed 80,000 hours. May he rest in peace.”
Is this the way you want to be remembered?
That’s a question David Behrend asks lawyers who may not be happy in their careers and may be ready to explore renewing goals or using their law degrees in new ways for “encore careers.”
Maybe you are a young associate pushed out of a job when your firm merged with another one.
Maybe you graduated from law school, but never really landed a good job because of the recession, and competition is fierce in a state with more 95,000 lawyers.
Maybe you finally made partner at a major Miami law firm, you have a big sailboat docked at the yacht club, but you’re just not happy. You can’t seem to balance your professional and personal life, working long hours and weekends in the competitive law firm culture of endless deadlines that drains your creative juices and shrinks your reservoir of energy.
Behrend, who has a master’s in education and is director of Career Planning Services for Lawyers in Ardmore, Pennsylvania, is pairing up with Michael Cohen, executive director of Florida Lawyers Assistance, Inc., to offer free career counseling to Florida lawyers via computer or telephone from the privacy of your home or office.
The first online group interactive session takes place on Wednesday, January 23, at noon, by logging into Gotomeeting.com (see information below), and will be held every other Wednesday at noon thereafter.
The idea is to get you thinking in a new way about what to do with the rest of your life, career-wise. If further one-on-one counseling is needed, that can be arranged.
“Because of the economic situation, we are dealing with so many lawyers experiencing stress and depression because of losing jobs, downsizing, or they’re in a sole practice and they are seeing their practice evaporate,” Cohen said.
“We are trying to address the problem at the front end, rather than waiting for someone to call the hotline and say: ‘I’m so depressed I can’t get out of bed.’”
Since the onset of the recession in 2007, Cohen said, he has noticed “an uptick of depression, anxiety, and substance abuse cases seen by FLA.”
The FLA career forum is designed to enable lawyers, at all stages of their careers, from lawyers entering the profession to those who may be winding down their practices.
“It’s open for the whole continuum. Like with other groups, people at one end can learn from those on the other end. People in the same seminar may say, ‘That’s how I felt two years ago, and here’s what I could have done,’” Cohen said.
Looking at the numbers, if you are an unhappy lawyer, you are in good company. Behrend cites a recent survey by the American Bar Association that concluded lawyers are “stretched to the breaking point.” Nearly three quarters of those interviewed said they “feel worn out by the end of the work day.” And lawyer discontent has escalated over the past six years from 35 percent to 45 percent, whether associates in their 20s or partners in their 50s.
“I have career street smarts,” said Behrend, a consultant working with attorneys and other professionals for more than 25 years on career development, and what he describes as “meaningful or necessary job change or career transitions.”
“It’s not therapy. It’s no-nonsense career counseling,” Behrend said. “At the end of a session, our goal is to clarify, if not crystallize, the direction to go. It’s a process. It’s not a quick fix. You go from the thinking phase to the communication stage. You have to have the ability to market and package yourself. And maybe that involves changing priorities.”
Charting his own career, Behrend tells how he taught in a classroom for a year, got his master’s in career counseling, and worked for an organization for a dozen years.
“I was pushed out.” Behrend said. “It was the best thing that happened to me.”
He ended up in management at an addiction hospital “like Betty Ford,” working with very bright people, but he didn’t like managers or managing. When the hospital was bought out, Behrend was looking for a job again. This time, he started his own practice, focusing “99 percent of my work with attorneys.”
“Most of the lawyers I deal with have tunnel vision,” Behrend said, describing how he helps them see their career options through a kaleidoscope of possibilities.
“No one said when you graduated from law school at 26 you have to stay all 40 years in the practice of law,” Behrend said, adding that the “traditional triad of law firm, in-house, or government may not always be the right choice for an entire career.”
The most difficult lawyers to help, Behrend said, are “those who have never failed. Those are the ones who graduated near the top of the class, who basically have fallen. It’s the first time they failed at anything. It throws them through a loop. ‘I expected to be partner. And it hasn’t worked out.’
“Sometimes, they have to lower their expectations. What aspect of the practice did you enjoy? ‘Well, I liked research, and I was not as good at working with the client.’ Or, ‘I found as I got older my work slowed down. I just became bored.’”
If you are wondering if it may be time for a change, you are invited to join the first call-in group, titled, “Career Exploration: Searching for Meaning in My Career or Am I on the Right Track?”
“We are very excited about it,” Cohen said. “Other lawyer assistance programs around the country that have run these live sessions usually fill up within a day of the announcement. There’s a need for this service.”
Online career counseling available
Join the first free online career counseling session on Wednesday, January 23, from noon to 1 p.m. The meetings will be held every other Wednesday thereafter. The meeting capacity is 25 participants, first come, first served.
To log on by computer, go to: https://global.gotomeeting.com/join/68439961. The participants can then use their computer microphone and speakers, although a headset is recommended. Up to five participants at a time can also use the video conferencing feature of the meeting. If the participant is using a telephone, call: 213-493-0614. The access code is 684-399-861. The audio PIN will be shown after joining the meeting. The meeting ID is 694-399-861.
Among those who may benefit from participating are:
* Lawyers who are or should be exploring a career or employment change;
* Recent law graduates unsure of the next opportunity;
* Lawyers returning to the practice after an absence of time;
* Older partners or judges searching for their “encore” career;
* Lawyers unable to practice at this time;
* Disenchanted lawyers unsure of alternative career options.