My Promise to Keep Loving Lawyers – Even When You Make It Hard
Confessional – Hi. My name is Lori Gonzalez. And I desire to build a company that supports, inspires and assists lawyers. I also love the legal field. And I hate that I love it. And some days I hate that I love lawyers. The truth is the skills I have learned working in the legal field are useful in so many other industries. And in those other industries value is placed heavily on the skills I have learned. I would never be a non-(insert any other damn profession here), but in the legal field no matter my skill or expertise I will remain a non-lawyer for a very long time.
Yesterday I attended #SoLI2018 at Vanderbilt Law. Today I was trying to decide how I felt about the conference. As a former paralegal in small law, time was the enemy. There was never enough time in my life. And everyone around me had the same enemy – time. Five years ago, my co-founder and I decided to build a company that would help law firms find their lost time. Some days that is a billable hour not properly recorded. Other days it is outsourcing an admin process that benefits from our experience in efficiency. My favorite days are ones where I explore all the amazing solutions that have nothing to do with us – tech and other items that remind me that our problems are already largely solved with practical solutions. The one thing I have so much more of than ever before in the legal space is time. Time to do all those things, but also time to attend legal tech conferences. Time to explore small business conferences. Time to network with interesting individuals I meet in the space. Time to volunteer for access to justice initiatives or diversity/inclusion initiatives. And the best time – time for my family and friends – those who have no idea what the hell I am talking about most of the time but who love me as I am.
Despite all that extra time, yesterday was an exhausting reminder of how much more time is needed. I moved between silos of people who have real solutions and answers to problems in the legal field and lawyers who are frustrated by the inability to utilize those solutions and answers. Bill the lawyer told me during our brainstorming session to limit my post-it note ideas – because he didn’t have enough time to read them all and was irritated I had an obnoxious amount of ideas. I also confirmed my suspicion that there was only 1 other former paralegal/admin support in a room full of “radical collaboration” supporters. And felt the need for more time to go find my people and bring them to the table.
So the main lesson I learned is I need to invest more time in this industry. I thought about whether helping this industry find solutions to their problems – with the answers I have – is worth this exhaustion and valuable time. After all, I am always going to be a non-lawyer first. And then I remembered Bill the lawyer. Bill who took time out of his day to be frustrated at me while I was frustrated at him. Because he wants to serve his clients and knows he needs more time to do so. 80% of legal needs are unmet. Every lawyer knows this on some basic level because every day they must make choices on who to serve … and who to reject. Every staff member in a law firm knows this … and own this even though the rewards are even less for them. Bill and I both hate to love our clients. Because loving our clients means sacrificing time to meet an insurmountable need. And often serving that need is thankless. It is not lost me on that lawyers are the butt of so many jokes and even when they give their all – they are told their value is less important by their clients.
So, I found a way to truly empathize with my lawyer friends. We have way more in common that we think. But the real thing I found yesterday was hope. I won’t lie – Bill the lawyer made me want to wallow in the wrongness of the legal field. But there were so many other people in that room too. Real individuals – both with law degrees and without. Law professors, lawyers, law students, technologists, legal operations folks and even 2 paralegals. And women – the room and the panels were full of women. But we still need more time. Time to ensure that people of color are properly represented. I was so excited to people of color, but we still lack true diversity in this arena. Time to ensure diversity in thought is truly incorporated in legal – not just in a 1-day conference but included in the every day life of a law firm.
I am now officially ranting – the legal field can do that to you. Take a thought and twist and turn it until you have no earthly idea what the point was. I started this blog today for 1 reason – my point. I found inspiration at SoLI2018 yesterday. In a room full of problems, I found a room full of problem solvers. Problem solvers with true heart. I was inspired by IBM Watson and a small not-even on the market yet product dealWIP. I was inspired by the techie who came to learn and help. I was inspired by Bill the lawyer who showed up even though he wasn’t sure this “touchy-feeling empathy” think had anything to do with helping him connect better with his clients. (Someone tell Bill that is the sole purpose of empathy – I am still mad at him for raining on my brilliant sticky note parade). I was inspired by the other me in the room – a recovering paralegal who sadly has left this field. I was inspired by a legaltech founder who sold her company and now is learning how to enjoy time. I was inspired by the heart of the conference who put this crazy show together and brought so many people in the room. I was inspired by the wife of one of these individuals who really understands what it is love a lawyer.
So, all I really learned yesterday is that we need to make time for inspiration. Inspiration is different for each of us. Focusing on how to inspire all of us – so we can continue to devote precious time to problem solving is our single greatest challenge. I want to express my eternal gratitude to those who inspire me. And I want to make a promise to the lawyers I hate to love. I will work hard to remember you first need inspiration – then my snarky but helpful solutions.