I’m coming off an interesting couple weeks where the theme apparently was happiness. And before you start rolling your eyes, give me a moment (because I’m just as skeptical as you when people in legal start spouting off about happiness).

According to Psychology Today, happiness is

more than simply positive mood, happiness is a state of well-being that encompasses living a good life—that is, with a sense of meaning and deep satisfaction.”

Let’s face it. THAT does not sound like the typical law firm, or overwrought executive, or the millennial lawyer, let alone look like anything that is happening within a legal marketing department.

This happiness theme really took hold with something Sanju Kripalani, who recently joined the Wicker Park Group said. It was based off of Sonja Lyubomirsky’s “The How of Happiness” formula,

50% of happiness is determined by your genes

10% of happiness is determined by the circumstances in which you live

40% of happiness is determined by your actions, your attitude or optimism, and the way you handle situations

Because we like pictures, it would look like this:

Happiness 50 40 10 chart


But we work in law firms and with lawyers, and we’ll immediately hear in our heads: I don’t agree with that.

Fine. So go and read this post by Jasper Bergnik because he doesn’t agree either with the FORMULA:

There is no comfortable formula for happiness. What we can say, is that our genes play an important role in determining happiness. But so do other factors, including our circumstances, environment, and our actions. Happiness is not a hard science. It is a way too complex phenomenon to quantify. But maybe that’s one of the reasons why it is so fascinating.

Back to Happiness and Working in Law Firms

I’m friends with lots of people who share my career path. I didn’t set out in life to become a legal marketer. The career found me. But here I am, and one thing I can say is that our jobs are emotionally tough. On any given day, let alone week, someone in my peer group is having a really crappy day, because … well, lawyers.

We choose to work every day with people who are TRAINED and PAID to be skeptical and challenge EVERYTHING.

Get it in your heads and in your hearts: IT.IS.NOT.PERSONAL.

A “fun” anecdote is that I actually had to source for a partner–with whom I had a great relationship and there was mutual respect–whether it is a double or single space after a period. I even blogged about it here: Oh, Brother. The Period Space v. Space Space debate. Again.

It is the nature of the beast to be challenged in our world, and to have our great, sound, and correct advice ignored (while the same thing said by a consultant is brilliant).

Over the years I’ve been challenged on a variety of things:

  • Pantone colors
  • A graphic in a newsletter depicting a hurricane
  • Whether or not GCs really meant it when they said they don’t like when their lawyers do X, Y, or Z
  • How to best submit a Chambers/Law360/industry publication submission
  • Why you don’t take a full brochure of services to an introductory lunch meeting
  • Glow pens as a conference give away (turned out to be a huge hit at the night time cocktail party at Disney where the guests turned them into mini lightsabers)
  • Why you don’t begin your bio with your Chambers/Law360/Industry publication accolade
  • And that Martindale is as passe and dead as your fax number

“I’m a professional, dammit,” I have wanted to scream pretty much weekly for the past 20 years. But it’s a silent scream, usually followed by lots of coffee, and some on-line shopping.

50% – Genetics

If 50% of my happiness is genetics, I am very fortunate. In addition to inheriting great skin from my mom, I inherited my dad’s ability to go with the flow and be happy. That doesn’t mean i don’t get depressed (which for me is 100% circumstantial). It just means that I am fortunate that I do not suffer from clinical depressions. That runs in my family as well, along with Autism.

I do, however, have a genetic predisposition to alcoholism (thank you grandparents), as well as food-related hives. Fortunately, I have been sober for nearly 30 years and remain actively engaged in treating my alcoholism (thank you big sister and brother-in-law for finding the solution before me). And I’m headed to the allergist next week to deal with the hives. Finally.

What it comes down to, we can’t do much about the genetics. It’s what it is.

40% – Internal State of Mind

Yes, alcoholism, depression, cancer all suck. Sometimes it feels like there is NOTHING you can do. But that’s a lie. You can ALWAYS do something. And that’s how you approach life and circumstances.

If you’re bummed out about something in your life and you’re just dumping on me, you’ll get this little bit of life advice:

Image result for quotes marigold hotel everything will be alrightYes. The ONE movie quote I can always remember.

WE WORK IN LEGAL. It’s tough. We’re challenged on EVERY single idea by the people we’re trying to help. Sometimes I want to scream:

We’re on the same team!!!!

If only the lawyers would let go and just let the business professionals do what we do best, right??

Not going to happen. If you can’t deal with that, then you’re in the wrong industry. Which is in your control as well.

10% – Circumstances

(((sigh))) this is all the stuff in my life that I can’t control.

A New Pair of Glasses

If you wear glasses, you know what it’s like when you get a new pair. WOW. What a difference. The clarity. How you can look at the same flower and see all the colors brighter, the nuances of the leaves, the depth against the backdrop.

This is the 40% put into motion.

How do I handle the things over which I have no control?

It’s my perception. It’s my attitude. It’s my actions.

Sometimes I just have to detach, and view things from a different perspective. And the tighter I am attached, the harder it is to let it go.

Since we’re talking law firms, I’ll talk about our recent website project by way of an example.

We began the project with a certain set of objectives in mind, which I was really gung-ho about and excited to implement.

It was going to be a bigger, faster, better website than any of you have, and I would receive lots of praise and glory, and an award or two, while engaging every single lawyer in my firm along the way, and creating world peace.

COMPLETELY realistic expectations in light of my chosen profession, right?

Along the way, I didn’t get my way on every single decision (go figure). I got bummed out. I started to resent the process and the project. I started to question everything and everyone around me, and I became miserable. So I bought some new shoes, which made me happy,

And I started a new gym routine.

And a new food program.

I doubled-down on my meditation.

And what happened is that I let go of my emotional attachment to the project.

The inspirations came back. The process started to flow again. And we launched the website.

It felt like a light switch went on one day, and, poof, my perception changed. But it was much more like leaning on the dimmer and one day it became bright enough for me to notice the writing on the wall:

I am not the website.

I am also not the achievements of my firm, or the attorneys in the firm. I am not my husband. I am not my kids. I am just perfectly imperfect me.

I am, at my root-self, a connector of people and ideas. If you embrace the ideas, that is great. If you don’t, that is great too, as the ideas are not me.

It’s been very freeing and liberating. It’s opened up a new channel of inspiration for me and my job. The ideas through 2019 are mapping out and I am engaging others in my enthusiasm.

Leadership for Law Firm Leaders

But, better yet, after 20 years in legal marketing I believe I have found my purpose.

Leadership for law firm leaders.

I’m talking about newly elected managing partners, committees chairs, practice/industry group leaders, business executives, and the rising-leaders amongst the associates.

Leadership is not taught in law firms, and in listening to you and from my own experience, leadership is lacking in law firms.

How our leaders emerge in the law firm is rarely intentional. First year associates aren’t thinking, “Wow, in 20 years, I could be managing partner of this firm, or maybe chair of the compensation committee.”

Often times the “leader” is appointed because they have time on their hands, or there isn’t someone else to do it, or it’s their turn. Whatever the pathway to leadership, it usually doesn’t come with a handbook or set of directions. But because you now have the role, you should intuitively know how to do it.

Leadership doesn’t work that way.

Intuitive v. Intentional Leadership

On my first day at the SmithBucklin Leadership Institute I wrote down that what I was hoping to get out of the program was to take my leadership skills from intuitive to intentional.

Just like what I see in the law firm setting, I rose up in the ranks and was where I was, but I wasn’t sure what to do now that I was there. Not just talking about work, but in my professional association, in my community, in my home.

And I was making mistakes. And I was making good decisions. But none of it was intentional.

It’s been several years since I completed the program, and I have to say I am still expanding my leadership skills. I am still learning. And it will be a lifetime of learning. And that is exciting.

I also have come to the realization that I have 100% control over my life, even that 10% I have no control over. For it is how I choose to react or respond to the situations I have no control over that drives my ability to live happily in this moment.

Now, can someone turn that into a pithy phrase that will fit on a mug or t-shirt?