How defining your personal values can enhance your legal career

Sign on a desk reading "core" values

When each of us chose the law as our profession, we knew it was possible that, from time to time, our moral compass could be called into question. There wouldn’t be scores of jokes about the evils of lawyers if this weren’t the case. Nonetheless, we chose this profession anyway. That choice may have come from a sense of justice, a dedication to truth, or a good, old-fashioned desire to make a decent living.

Regardless of your reason for choosing a career in law, all of us can pursue this profession with a sense of honesty, integrity, and pride. How? It’s simple. We just have to align our personal values with our day-to-day lives. Read on to discover how this seemingly daunting task can be accomplished.

Defining your personal values

Have you ever sat down and thought about your personal values? I’m talking about the things that really matter to you — the principles that guide your life. Surprisingly, many people have never done this. The good news is, it’s never too late to start. (Full disclosure: I did this recently with a business coach and, I’ll tell you, it’s not as easy as you’d think but it sure is illuminating.) So, let’s begin.

What matters to you?

In most courtrooms, that question would be met with the objection, “overly broad!” It is, and that’s intentional. So, let’s break it down. I’ll use myself as the guinea pig.

The first thing my coach had me do was visualize things that really make my blood boil. When she initially asked this question, I had just finished a particularly frustrating drive across town. Multiple drivers sat through green lights, drove under the posted speed limit, and otherwise wasted my time. Therefore, my response to the blood-boiling question was “Inefficiency!”

Fortunately, I had my coach there to break it down further. After much discussion, I realized that, to me, inefficiency signaled a lack of respect. The corollary, of course, is that respect for others is extremely important to me. Once I looked at the issue through that lens, it was clear that respect is one of my personal values.

Read more >> When to say no to your dream job in the legal profession

Focusing on the positive

You can also find your personal values by focusing on the positive. Ask yourself, for example, what behaviors in others really warm your heart. When I thought about this question, I immediately thought of people helping other people. Whether it is a young person holding the door for an elder, somebody buying a meal for a homeless person, or any other random act of kindness, I am always so pleased to witness selfless acts. I mean, it really brings me joy. It didn’t take much reflection to realize that kindness and compassion are two of my personal values.

But enough about me. Why don’t you stop reading for a minute and try both of those exercises. What did you come up with?

Now that you have your own personal values in mind, let’s take a look at how you can use those values to enhance your career.

Read more >> 6 ways to shift your perspective in the new year

How to use your personal values to make your legal career more fulfilling

No matter what your personal values are, you can use them to make decisions about your career. Let’s say, for example, that personal financial security is a core value of yours. If that’s the case, then you probably want to choose an area of law that pays well. That way, your day-to-day grind will be feeding your need to be financially secure.

If, on the other hand, justice and equity are strong personal values of yours, perhaps you should work in criminal defense, labor and employment law, or consumer rights. If you do that, you just may find that your daily crusades will enhance your strong pull toward justice.

How about those of you who list creativity as a core personal value? Can you align your legal career with that credo? Some would argue that every legal career involves a degree of creativity —  but that may not be enough for you. So, perhaps you need to feed your personal value outside the office. Make time to take a painting class, learn to play the ukulele, or write a short story. The good news is that caring for your drive toward creativity just might make you happier at work.

Read more >> 8 science-approved ways to be happier

So, how about it? Are you ready to start defining your personal values — and then putting them into action within your legal career?

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