Of Omelettes & Eggshells

Let's talk about professionalism.  My law school puts a premium on it, and I truly believe that we turn out a better class of attorney.  That's why I'm here.  But no matter how genuinely the word is meant, professionalism can turn into a hollow shell that doesn't mean much to the students.  It takes a lot of reflection to construct a solid foundation of professionalism suitable for supporting your reputation as a lawyer.  Here's a small part of what professionalism means to me, viewed through the lens of a recent experience.

Abstract Life Lineby Jeff Bauche._.·´¯) via FlickrA touchstone of professionalism is its separation from the personal.  The problem there is that as lawyers, we bring our work home with us and we live at work.  If you don't have friends who work with you, you probably don't    have friends.  And growing a crop of lawyers who have no friends and operate in an all-work, no-play universe is a terrible idea

To my mind, good fences make good neighbors--and the adage applies to the work/life line.  I learned a couple of hard lessons at the beginning of the semester, when I had to work with two very good friends of mine in a professional setting.  It's important for you to know that I have nothing but love for the two of them, and nothing but respect for their professional skills. I've worked with them both before and probably will again.  But this endeavor just didn't go too well.  I'm only going to discuss the lessons I learned about myself here. I'm not looking to criticize or call anyone out.

1st:  My definition of the professional/personal boundary is not everyone's definition of the professional/personal boundary.  
When I was at the professional table, I wanted to focus on the legal subject matter and the applicable facts.  I wanted the attorneys to work like hands on a Oija board, invisible--enabling rather than creating the solutions.  Perhaps that perspective was always unrealistic; I'm not experienced enough yet to know whether it's possible to work so unobtrusively.  What did become clear was that my vision didn't match that of all the other attorneys involved.  The other viewpoint was that as attorneys, we should push our clients in one way or the other.  And my unwillingness to push could have been interpreted as an unprincipled, stubborn stand meant to bully their client.  Obviously, it wasn't productive for anyone.  

2d:  Legitimacy in the professional setting comes from my own professional skill in expressing that legitimacy, not from the personal relationship I may or may not have with the person across the table.
I'm struggling to explain this paragraph without relating the comment from the other attorney that I took so personally.  Suffice it to say, at several points I made assertions which were true.  The other side may have felt they were untrue, or may have simply felt I wasn't trying hard enough to make the true statements on our side match the true statements on theirs.  When I felt judged as an attorney based on facts I simply relayed as a messenger, I took it very personally.  To me, it felt like a person who knew me well was telling me that they did not believe I had the requisite skill to be good at my chosen field...or worse, that I was purposely being dishonest and manipulative.  To the other side, it must have seemed like I was preaching about not taking thing personally and then expecting credit for my personal life.  I was very upset. Which leads to my next point...

3rd:  Being tired, stressed, hungry, and hurt will affect my performance.  It is extremely important to have a plan to compensate for my emotional state.
This project was two weeks long, and it went sour early.  Although the second week was salvaged and the "personal" problems I was having really did subside, I know that my performance suffered because of how upset I was about my interactions with the other attorneys.  I'd like to say that I've formulated a plan to deal with those emotions, but I haven't.  I'll be working on that for a while, I expect.

Work In Progress                         Image via WikipediaThis may be the first real ". . . and how I'm getting it back" post to make it to publication on lawschoolruins.  Writing down my less successful moments and recognizing that it was at least partly my own fault helps me realize that I can improve.  And that realization is nice, when faced with the very 
upsetting suggestion that you might not be good at what you spent the last three years training to do. You might not be good...but you can get better.

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  1. You are good. And we can all get better.

  2. Hello, I enjoyed this post. I've been struggling with keeping clients from prying into my personal life, so while this post was not about that exactly, I'm understanding a big need for professionalism and boundaries.