I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes a legal organization a place that lawyers and staff truly want to work – a place where they will continually strive to do great work, a place they are proud to represent, a place they feel loyalty toward.
Legal work is intrinsically adversarial and will take a toll on an attorney’s psyche and wellness over time. But it’s certainly not the only stressful occupation out there. Like Yvette Hourigan, from the Kentucky Lawyer Assistance Program says: ”There are a lot of high stress professions. Being a physician has stress. However, when the surgeon goes into the surgical suite to perform his surgery, they don't send another physician in to try to kill the patient. You know, they're all on the same team trying to do one job. In the legal profession, adversity is the nature of our game.”
So what can firms and nonprofit legal organizations do to offset the inherent stress, pressure, and secondary trauma that comes with the job?
It basically comes down to psychology.
One thing that research has shown is that if a particular workplace fosters positive emotions (like joy, gratitude, love, interest, and pride), then both the individuals and the collective are more likely to achieve success. This is, in part, because people who experience positive emotions feel less of a barrier between themselves and their community. So they feel more responsible for the organization and for their colleagues. They are also able to be more innovative and work together to realize collective goals. All great things!
If legal organizations can intentionally generate and foster more positive emotion in the workplace, then they’ll be able to safeguard against the harmful effects of the adversarial legal system they exist in. Remember that, as a matter of evolutionary psychology, we’re more affected by bad things than good things and need at least 3 positive emotions for every negative emotion.
So go out there and show your appreciation, pride, interest, or joy to at least 3 of your coworkers today, and you’ll be well on your way!