The need to be appreciated for who we are and what we contribute, whether that is within our family or our work environment, is a very deep and truly human one.
Without a sense of being appreciated, it is very difficult to feel any sense of value or belonging. Feeling alone can be one of the most destructive emotions but yet experienced by so many of us. And it is not necessarily the situation of being alone that causes loneliness, but rather the lack of being seen, heard and appreciated.
To quote Robin Williams,
“I used to think that the worst thing in life was to end up all alone. It’s not. The worst thing is life is to end up with people that make you feel all alone."
So, when we think about issues with wellness in the legal profession, appreciation (or lack thereof) should be an important topic within that discussion. Generally, it could be usefully argued that while lawyers are very necessary advocates in the journey of life, they are not often as well appreciated as other professionals, although of course this varies by practice area.
One lawyer I spoke with recently in a rather more contentious practice area told me that he absolutely dreads always seeming to be the voice of doom in squelching enthusiastic plans. Nonetheless, it is his role to foresee potential problems, rate the likelihood of their occurrence and the potential problems and advise accordingly. Such advice is immensely valuable.
But is it appreciated?
From the client side then, it is easy to see where ‘appreciation’ in some practice areas might fall down between the gaps. It is a question of focus, perspective and experience in reality. It’s tricky and a study in human nature all its own.
If you have an accident in your car which you genuinely begin to fear for your life, your attention is wonderfully focused on continuing this existence. Were someone to come along and take action that meant your life was no longer in danger, your appreciation of them would be slavish in nature. Newspaper reports would laud their heroic acts. There might be songs written about them. TikTok would almost certainly get involved.
However, if you are merely enjoying driving your car and a person pops out of the bushes, waving to slow you down and warn of impending dangers, you might feel a little differently. Rather than appreciation, you might feel annoyance instead. While annoyance might live at the same end of the dictionary to appreciation, it is on the opposing end of the emotional spectrum. And yet, that person’s contribution to your continued existence on this little blue/green ball might have been every bit as meaningful as that of the TikTok hero of the hour.
What that boils down to is that while an ounce of prevention might be worth more than a pound of cure, it isn’t anything like as sexy or exciting. And therefore, not appreciated in the same way. It’s more difficult to appreciate the ‘never happened’ than the ‘happened but I was saved’ despite the fact that inarguably, ‘never happened’ costs less and leaves no scars.
To be fair, lawyers do their fair share of heavy lifting in the ‘happened but I was saved’ category but the core purpose of the profession lies in creating, guiding and supporting the ‘never happened’ non-stories that we tell no one about.
So, as we head towards the annual lawyer appreciation week, what can we find to truly appreciate about lawyers? What would I say to my lawyer friend who dreads being the voice of doom? I might say this:
“I don’t have another professional in my life that dedicates so much time to my specific well-being in the world as you do. That considers in such detail the problems I might face and the actions that I can take to never experience them. That takes care of the myriad legal details that govern so much of the success that I want so that I don’t have to. As I think about the last year of working together, I think about so many things that were never my experience because of the work that you do. And I really, really appreciate that!”