California Bar Journal
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Seeking balance as an attorney
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Sit back, relax (if time permits), and take a moment to reflect on your legal career. Realizing that work occupies a large portion of your life, ask yourself if you are satisfied with your chosen profession. Has being a lawyer fulfilled your expectations or has it become nothing more than a one-way, all-consuming journey into a world of constant deadlines, pressure and overall dissatisfaction? Is your role as an attorney in harmony with who you really are? If you are one of the growing number of attorneys who has given thought to one or more of these questions, then Transforming Practices, by Steven Keeva, may provide one answer and open the door to a more satisfying and successful practice.

The message being sent by Keeva in his new book is clear. Attorneys are zealous advocates who engage in a profession where winning is everything and a "kill-or-be-killed, win-at-any-cost" attitude is the norm. Hours are long and the demands of the profession can be overwhelming. Labels like "strong," "aggressive," and "ruthless" have become badges of honor that define those who have succeeded in their pursuits.

Unfortunately, according to Keeva, this "achievement" and dedication comes with a price. Some-where along the way, there is a loss of caring and compassion for others and life itself. The attorney's drive to succeed and conquer comes at the expense of what Keeva describes as the "inner" or "spiritual" self, that sense of balanced awareness between the professional and personal life that makes one a complete human being.

Author Steven KeevaThe result is a dissatisfaction by many attorneys with the practice of law, as underscored by a California study that finds that a majority of lawyers, if given a second chance, would do something else.

Rather than flee the profession, the author offers hope to the disenchanted. Founded on the premise that the traditional practice of law has become a 24-hour ritual that will eventually result in a stress-filled, unproductive environment and deprive you of the balance that is necessary to lead a satisfying lifestyle, Transforming Practices introduces the reader to seven kinds of spiritually oriented law practices that promise to "enhance your relationships and deepen your enjoyment of your law practice."

The author urges members of the profession to essentially set aside the traditional legal model and focus on a practice orientation "that shuns the rancor and bloodletting of litigation whenever possible; seeks to identify the roots of conflict without assigning blame; encourages clients to accept responsibility for their problems and to recognize their opponents' humanity; and sees in every conflict an opportunity for both client and lawyer to let go of judgment, anger and bias and to grow as human beings."

My jaded, initial reaction is, "Good luck."

While these goals are laudable, the realities of practicing law in today's world make it difficult for a majority of the profession to achieve such a practice. However, if you can get over the "touchy-feely" perspective associated with books that advocate the development of one's inner self and spiritual development, the various practices provide sound, common-sense techniques that could benefit even the most traditional practitioner.

For example, the "balanced practice" advocates taking the time to pay attention to what makes you feel whole, becoming aware of what you are neglecting, and giving overemphasized parts of you a well-deserved break. We all can agree that too much of one thing, even practicing law, may not be good for you.

The "healing practice" demonstrates that the attorney's role does not have to be limited to being an advocate. Instead, the attorney can also undertake the roles of counselor, trusted advisor, problem solver and peacemaker to better serve his or her client.

My personal favorite, the "contemplative practice," which many of us may have unknowingly already mastered, stresses the importance of taking time out to relax, freeing your mind from the rigors of the day and essentially doing nothing. Case profiles of attorneys who have actually changed their attitudes and habits by engaging in the different practices, as well as transforming exercises, are included.

The search for spiritualism within the profession may not be for everyone. Many attorneys actually enjoy and thrive in the traditional legal practice. Yet, if you are at the point where you have serious concerns about your legal career, this book provides alternatives that may lead to a more meaningful practice.

And for those who decide to explore spirituality within the practice, the next time the senior partner catches you staring into space or daydreaming while looking out the window, tell him or her that you are seeking balance in your life and were in the process of cultivating a more vibrant inner self. If the boss buys that, then you know there is hope for a well-balanced profession and that your decision to read this book was a wise one.

Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, by Steven Keeva, is published by Contemporary Books, a division of NTC/Contemporary Publishing Group Inc., 4255 West Touhy Ave., Lincoln-wood, Ill. 60646-1975.

Richard Zanassi, an attorney with the State Bar's Office of General Counsel, is an occasional reviewer of books for the California Bar Journal.