Years ago, I visited a friend at her family’s house in the Adirondack Mountains. She picked me up from the Amtrak train station, and we had our usual fun, problem-solving chats on the drive. She also told me about the two other women who were staying with us. One was a lawyer who I had not met before. I braced myself for two days of backhanded insults and subtle hints that I wasn’t as smart, successful or important as she was. I was still practicing workers’ compensation defense almost exclusively at the time, and I was aware that many other attorneys looked down on this section of the profession. Some even call it “Kangaroo Court,” referencing what could be an Old West or penal colony court, but certainly not a tribunal to be respected. So, I let go of my vision of a refreshing weekend and began to imagine myself justifying my enjoyment and appreciation of the work I did.
When we arrived at the house, I met a humble and kind woman who sheepishly introduced herself as a lowly, nothing lawyer who does workers compensation defense cases. She had no idea she had now insulted both of us! I smiled to myself, realizing that her comments (and everyone’s comments) were about her own concerns and self-image. They weren’t about me.
We reminded this smart, beautiful woman that she worked hard and that she passed the same bar examination as other lawyers in seemingly more important jobs. She shouldn’t have downplayed her contributions. Or mine! We laughed, and we had a great weekend.
I wish I had taken that conversation a few steps further. I still see this attorney-friend on occasion when I am attending hearings. She is married now and caring for their first child. I wonder if she is as happy in her work.
If I had more courage back then, I might have guided our discussions through the Third Ear process and given her a future of appreciating herself and her work. I might have gotten clearer about my own gratitude.
It’s never too late.
STEP ONE: DEFINE THE CONFLICT.
I disagree with the legal profession’s opinion of workers’ compensation–especially workers’ compensation defense. (Already I am aware that such a broad generalization is part of the problem. “Everyone” never thinks exactly the same. It’s futile to me or my attorney-friend to try to change “everyone’s” opinion. It doesn’t exist!)
STEP TWO: IDENTIFY THE INTERESTS.
- I thought it would be easier for me to gain respect, make money as a lawyer and feel powerful.
- I believed the statistics the financial aid counselors relied upon to convince me to take on a lot of debt to attend their schools.
- I expected to be one of the people to generate the most success–to be that kind of statistic.
- I wish I had known how to analyze the data better so I could make an informed decision, and I wish I had actually applied that knowledge before now.
- I have to make monthly student loan payments for so long, I don’t think I’ll ever have the life I envisioned, and I become even more disillusioned because mine is not a sector of the profession that is thought (by other attorneys) to have “real lawyers.”
STEP THREE: PLAY WITH THE POSSIBILITIES.
If I could have this conflict resolved in any way possible, workers’ compensation attorneys–including defense attorneys–would be respected by other attorneys, the Workers’ Compensation Board, the legislature, their clients, and the general public. We would have just as much opportunity to earn salaries that help us get out of debt before retirement. Higher education schools would be more realistic about the statistics they share and the dreams they are selling at such a high price, especially to low-income individuals who clearly don’t have a lot of experience with large sums of money. We would see the good work we do, regardless of our images and perceptions.
STEP FOUR: CREATE THE FUTURE.
- I will share this story and process with you today.
- This week, I will send it to my attorney friend and the friend who introduced us.
- Throughout October and the end of the year, I will thank my workers’ compensation clients for their resilience and commitment to fairness, even where they are not always treated fairly.
- For the next six months, I will continue to add products and services to stabilize my firm, increase my personal income and pay off my debt ahead of schedule.
- Probably until I die, I will read books, take courses and seek advice that will allow me to speed the process of financial freedom so I can put more energy into my work and other areas of my life.
- For the next 30 days, I will acknowledge at least one thing per day that I enjoy about workers’ compensation defense.
STEP FIVE: STAY ON PARR.
I will Plan, Act, Revise, and Repeat until I get the results I want.