There’s a pervasive pressure I’ve noticed in the legal profession. Every lawyer I know has experienced it: the need to conform. I’m not talking so much about looking like your peers, although that’s certainly a factor, as it is in many career paths. In my experience, though, the chief pressure on attorneys lies in the feeling that they need to adhere closely to the paths of those who have preceded them.
Now, I get it. I’ve felt it myself for much of my life. If you’ve ever had a good mentor – and I can point to several I had – you know they exert a kind of magnetic influence on you, from how you initially think and speak to your approach to practicing law. You might even find yourself dressing the way they do. It’s amusing to look back on, but to give myself some grace as I think back on my early years, I think it was a natural stage of development. You have to respect those in whose steps you tread.
You might say that precedence is particularly important – even necessary – in practicing law. We look at past verdicts and settlements to help orient ourselves for cases in the present, and the rulings handed down today in turn shape the future of jurisprudence. That’s largely a good thing, and a great foundation for framing consensus among different parties.
Maybe it’s not the only thing, though, or even the most important thing.
As a mediator, the most important quality I can bring to the table is a grounded authenticity. That’s not to say that I’m immune to the plight of someone who has suffered terribly in an accident, nor is it to imply stubbornness in the face of bottom-line business realities. It also isn’t a way of saying that I go my own way, heedless of precedence or tradition.
No. Being grounded and authentic is about balance: not only finding it and maintaining it personally, but embodying it professionally. I can take whatever mediation clients have to give – laughter, tears, anger and sadness – and always keep our mutually agreed-upon goal in sight: resolution. It’s all I have to give.
That’s a sometimes-cold clarity. If you’re just yourself, at peace with what that means, and you offer what you have, you know also what you don’t have to offer. You can’t fix people, or solve every problem. Neither side will walk away from a settlement with everything they want. Realizing your limits can be a humbling experience.
And yet, you won’t easily lose sight of the goal. Though I’m thankful for a lengthy and wonderful legal career, I no longer have the need to conform to my predecessors’ style or approach, nor am I always beholden to precedence. I honor both of them, and look forward with clear eyes for what will bring my clients together at the table, and help them move forward. I bring myself in the fullness of authenticity to every meeting, so that I can help bring balance to resolution