The Art of the Bounce-Back
From time to time, all of us falter. Typically, we see this as a setback and ourselves as subpar. We seek to restore what’s been lost and to experience ourselves as successful again. We want to bounce-back. How might we do just that?
Based on my life experience and work as a coach, the answer lies in seeing our lives as a whole, integrating all of who we are and what we do. Having a cohesive sense of our lives is a real benefit.
Unfortunately, we lawyers often live partitioned lives. We place billable activities in one category. (In private practice, lawyers are often told that billable hours are the prize.) Our non-billable activities are placed in another category. In turn, these non-billable activities are placed into sub-categories. Examples might include time spent with family, play and recreation, civic and professional activities, and spiritual practices. For some, time spent in non-billable activities seems to be in keen competition with the need to amass billable hours.
Being organized is a necessary skill and a real benefit. The peril is in seeing our lives as fragmented, the sum of disparate parts. All too easily, we can be unaware of how the delight and discipline of one area of life (for example, participation in sports or performing music) can enliven and enable us in another area of our life (the practice of law, for example). It is difficult to thrive, and sometimes even to survive, if we live day to day with little sense of ourselves as a whole, unable to access the wisdom of all of our life experience.
Oftentimes, lawyers come to me for help in building (or rebuilding) their practices. Some are specialists, highly regarded in their areas of practice. Specialized areas of practice sometimes dry-up. Examples include the downturn in the practice of environmental law and the recent downturn in the bankruptcy law practice. In such a situation, how can a lawyer reboot his or her practice?
The question of how to build a practice can be answered in many ways. The following vignette is an example of the challenges faced by such clients and how they’ve learned to bounce-back and rebuild their practice of law.
Like many of my clients, Tony was mid-career in her practice and had been successful in her area of specialization. In recent years, legislative reforms had sharply impacted her area of practice and reduced the need for legal representation. Tony was no longer a big producer. In coming to me, Tony’s objective was simple enough – to “make her numbers” and measure up to what she had done before. As she described her circumstance, Tony was disheartened and appeared to be resigned. These days, she saw herself as a loser. Tony wanted to bounce-back but didn’t know how.
When Tony was asked about other interests, she mentioned singing. As it turns out, she loves to sing and is good at it. As she described singing in the church choir and performing at other functions, Tony became animated and expressive. In that moment, her transformation was palpable. Resignation was no place to be found. She was engaging.
As Tony described how she had mastered her voice, she became aware of how she had done so with passion, discipline, perseverance and focus. In the course of her training, her voice teacher asked Tony: “In performance, is it all about you; or is it about connecting with the audience?” Tony knew she could hold a tune. What she wanted to do was to connect with the audience and she learned how to do that.
As Tony set out to rebuild her law practice, she already had the legal skills she needed. (“She could already hold a tune.”) She knew that she’d have to develop another area of practice, but that wouldn’t be that much of a challenge. In rebuilding her practice, she came to realize that she needed to leverage what she already knew as a musician, bringing discipline, perseverance and focus to the challenge. And she realized that connecting with people is all-important, for clients generally retain lawyers where there is a “fit” – a good connection where trust can develop.
Everything Tony learned as a musician was available to her in the transition that brought her to me. In the course of things, she invited some friends and clients to venues where she performed. People came to experience Tony as vivacious and able to perform. As Tony became known as a confident and accomplished person, she came to see herself that way. As she developed her law practice, informed by her experience as a musician, Tony not only “made her numbers”, she far exceeded them.
From where I stand, there is great value in understanding ourselves as a whole, integrating and incorporating what we’ve learned in the roles we play and in the activities we enjoy. What has been learned in one area of life can be utilized in achieving mastery in another area. Doing so is the art of the bounce-back.