Now, four years into shingle hanging, and three lawyers deep, I realize what it was about my prior life as a lawyer that made me uneasy. It was not at all the jobs I held. I worked for great law firms, great lawyers and people I respected and will always respect.
What left me feeling uneasy was that I felt unsatisfied, and I felt unsatisfied because I felt that if I were not doing what I was doing, then someone else would be doing it just as well, and the world would be no different. In essence, I felt very, very replaceable.
I did not like this feeling at all. I wanted to do and be something more in my career and life. Since starting my firm, I have satisfied my desire for that type of meaning. In my own little world, mostly mentally, I feel less expendable than I did before. That feels really good.
Part of that good feeling I get nowadays might stem from my role as a mentor. These days, I am an employer. I have two younger attorneys who work with me. I believe I get meaning and a good feeling out of trying to make sure they become productive and responsible members of the bar.
Each day, I try to remember what it was like to be in their shoes not so long ago. I think about what I liked and what I did not like about having a boss, about having to perform certain assignments delegated to the rookies, and about making less money than I thought I deserved or that the market in Philadelphia dictated. I think about these things so that I stay in touch with what it takes to overcome the bad and feel the good.
I personally recall my own feelings of what I thought at the time stemmed from being overworked, underpaid, understaffed, underappreciated, taken advantage of, all of the above, or any combination of the above. I now know that all I felt and sought was a feeling that I was not expendable. That is it.
We deserve, as lawyers, to feel good about ourselves and feel like our work has some sort of meaning. For years, I yearned to feel like I was not just a part of a collection of free agents here together for one run at a championship, only to be broken up next year, but that we were all homegrown talents with a strong farm system who would develop and reach full potential with each other over time. I believed that a mindset like that would lead to a championship organization composed of longtime and dedicated employees. It worked for the Phillies a few years ago when they won the World Series with a collection of their own prospects who developed into stars.
Trying to position your employees, then, to feel special about themselves amidst the stresses of our profession is certainly not an easy task though. As an employer now, I have learned first-hand that sending that message and creating an environment where that message permeates requires commitment, perspective, creativity and insight.
I try to think of enticements to keep people on board, committed and motivated. Bonuses are one way of creating that mindset of feeling unique and exceptional. I think about rewarding employees financially when a positive result comes through the door, or when we make more money than we expected. Likewise, I think about small tokens of gratitude that probably make he or she who gives feel better than he or she who receives, but still sends a message of gratitude.
Giving opportunities to gain significant and meaningful experience is another way of creating that mindset of feeling unique and exceptional. I often ask for input from my employees about virtually every major decision in a case that has to be made. And, equally as important, I keep my employees informed once the decision has been made so that they are not left wondering what is going on. I think many young lawyers might say, if honest, that this seemingly simple step is often overlooked, and the lawyer is then deprived of valuable learning experiences.