Last year at this time, we published this post on gratitude, and it resonated with a lot of lawyers. Here it is again, slightly revised. Have a grateful Thanksgiving holiday.
Looking at the roiling current of world events, many of them dark and discouraging, can justifiably make us anxious and depressed. Our times are marked by seemingly endless war, terrorism, hateful rhetoric, political turmoil, gun violence, sexual assault. But here in the U.S., we will nonetheless sit down on Thanksgiving Day with family and friends for a shared meal that is the proper antithesis — perhaps the strongest one — to hate, death and destruction.
And while you are feeling generally grateful, you should also think about your life in the law, in particular. Legal scholars have examined the trait of gratitude and how it is and can be expressed in our profession.
In her excellent 2012 article, which appeared in the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy, author Reed Elizabeth Loder says that “Gratitude might be a curious topic at a time that the public maligns, even demonizes lawyers. Asking lawyers to endure social scorn and yet feel thankful seems a double insult. Yet … every lawyer should cultivate, feel, and act upon a special type of gratitude — call it legal gratitude.”
This attitude, says Loder, can be a “sustaining source of ethical inspiration to lawyers.” It can give us the outlook we need to survive in our challenging profession with our inmost beings intact.
So here are five reasons to specifically be thankful for being a lawyer.
- Our knowledge, skill and training are gifts. Whether a GC of a Fortune 500, or a contract lawyer doing document review, we have achieved a privileged status in society that has improved our lives. We’ve earned our professional status by our own hard work, but we have to acknowledge that our “social and personal privileges” come from the generally just society that permitted us to get here, Loder writes. “Citizens owe gratitude to their government for general belonging and public benefits, [but] the lawyer owes special gratitude for a legal heritage that bestows greater than normal benefits.”
- Our work has purpose. More important than the social advantages, “are the possibilities a lawyer acquires for a meaningful professional and personal life. The law is a worthy profession because it serves the intrinsic good of justice … Unlike many forms of work, legal work has an overarching purpose as its measure.” Even when we struggle to find that purpose, “it is a privilege to have some standard of goodness” by which we calibrate our professional integrity.
- We have the ability to change society. “Because law is so central in a contemporary society that has few other shared cultural moorings, the lawyer is privileged to effectuate social changes that few have the power even to touch. … Lawyers can influence, to small or large extent, legal reform and justice.”
- We have the opportunity to help. As Loder says, “there is never a shortage of satisfying work for those lawyers who can make time to donate their expertise to represent otherwise voiceless clients or causes.”
- We can grow personally. Whatever you call your inner being — your soul, your psyche, your character — being a lawyer presents an incredible opportunity to refine and perfect it. This concept may get lost in daily practice, with its competitiveness and all the interactions that can diminish and dispirit us. But at bottom, “the legal experiences that spur lawyers to perfect their craft and cultivate personal traits like patience and fortitude are the sources of gratitude.”
Our privileged position in society, the chance to do good work and serve a just system, the opportunity to serve others — all these build our own capacity for generosity and caring, and bring meaning to our own lives.
For these things, we should be grateful.