Finding your purpose

In a recent post I talked about why it’s important to find a purpose one’s legal career. Here’s a quick recap:
  • Definition of a purpose: A reason. A driving factor or force. An aim. A goal.
  • Description of a purpose: It varies for every person but it could be a desire to work with a given population, solve a particular kind of problem,  a goal to hone a certain skill within yourself, or to right a social or cultural wrong.
  • Examples of a purpose: I cited a law student who have raised money for legal tech activities and Brooke Moore who has built a robust online, unbundled law firm.

More than that, though, I said that a purpose was the one thing that every law student and legal professional needs. So it follows logically that I’d have a structured way to find one. And, to some extent, I do. Last week I announced the launch of Cohort X, which is an extension of the career development mastermind groups I’ve been working on. In those groups – and as will be shared with Cohort X – we start with context, move through strengths and weaknesses, move next to to empathy and finish with shipping. I’ll be going into that process in greater detail with Cohort X and sharing related materials with them.

But, for me, my process of finding my purpose was a bit more organic. I can’t say there’s any kind of linear structure to it, but here’s what I know:
  1. Make purpose a priority: I wasn’t clear enough in school or for the first few years of my post-law school career. If I had had my purpose early on, I would have made different choices in law school as far as classes  I took, and later as far as networking opportunities I explored, jobs I pursued, etc. Instead what resulted was a fairly painful experience in which I cast about a fair bit and wasted valuable time trying to fit myself into someone else’s purpose or the world’s definition of a purpose for legal professionals in general or a person like me, in specific.
  2. Ask questions: My purpose didn’t come to me all at once. To be honest, I started exploring my purpose out of desperation. As I’ve mentioned, my early forays into legal employment were rocky. The hardest thing for me, personally, when I got fired, was that I didn’t understand why the job hadn’t worked out.  Also, I hadn’t really thought about why I wanted to be a lawyer or who I wanted to help so it was extremely hard for me to “dust myself off” and move on because larger than anything loomed the questions “Move on to what? And for what reason?” In this low point I asked myself some pretty fundamental questions: what kind of work would I do simply for the joy of it? What kinds of people did I want to work with? What problems in the world did I feel I was uniquely suited to address? This last question also had the benefit of helping me figure out what I do well which, in turn, helped me refine my purpose.
  3. There is power in modest insights: From these basic questions came some similarly basic but very powerful answers: (1) I wanted to speak, (2) I wanted to write, and (3) I wanted to build. As far what to write about I applied the old “write what you know” adage and I began to expound upon some of my frustrations with and confusion about my struggles as a legal professional. I started trying to speak and write about innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship in the legal sector. This simple combination of the activities I want to do and working on the problem that I want to solve was the basis of my career at Avvo and is now the foundation for my new endeavor.
  4. Iterate:  Along the way, I’ve both refined and broadened my purpose. I’m working on projects like Cohort X, developing consulting clients in a number of areas, and still running the Seattle Legal Tech Meetup. It’s a constant process of trying new things, learning a bunch, and continuing to ship.
In the spirit of that last point, I’ll acknowledge that I’m still refining my purpose, but I wanted to share what I do have :
  1. Our technological age presents an opportunity to fundamentally change our legal system for the better.
  2. Realizing that opportunity will require a new and different type of legal professional, likely working outside what we term today as the traditional “practice of law.”
  3. There’s important work to be done to find, develop, and champion those professionals.
While a simple purpose that’s easy to articulate is best the most helpful purpose will serve as a guide and an anchor for you. It should help you make decisions about which professional opportunities to pursue, which to ignore, which skills to hone, and which to ignore, and where to put your effort.

If you want to explore finding your purpose in a more structured way, I’d encourage you to sign up for Cohort X and you can follow along with what I’m learning there. But more broadly, I’d encourage you to find your purpose and hold tight. It’ll make all the difference.

Are you one of those new and different types of legal professional, outside what we term today as the traditional “practice of law,” working to fundamentally change the legal system for the better? Join the Right Brain Law mailing list of creative entrepreneurial legal professionals for opportunities to push that agenda, connect with likeminded folks, and refine your purpose.