The Culture of Law (9): Show Me The Money!

If you saw the movie Jerry Maguire, you remember the show me the money scene. Jerry has a moral epiphany, writes a middle-of-the-night manifesto, and hits the send button. He’s greeted at the office with a rousing ovation… as one colleague asks another, “How long do you give him?” His manifesto broke with the cultural status quo; he has to go. He gets fired of course, and now he’s dialing for dollars. He takes only one client with him, at the cost of everything he just gained from his awakening.

It’s funny, and if you’ve been there, painful.

I had my own show me the money moment my first day back in the office after taking the bar exam. My wife and I had escaped for 3½ weeks in the Scottish highlands and islands. The silent remoteness and stark natural beauty were disorienting at first, but in time we settled into it and returned home resolute about creating a more enriching lifestyle.

We flew back on a Saturday. On Monday morning I biked into work early, stopping to take photos of the downtown skyline and the Cathedral Basilica in the red light of the rising sun. At the office, the corporate department was in the middle of a merger on a fast track. I worked until 11:00 that night; I was the first to leave.

Welcome back. Epiphanies are nice, but duty calls. There are clients to serve and paychecks to earn. Culture wins again.

There were more epiphanies and more show me the money moments over the course of my career. I’m far from alone in that. At my CLE workshops on career and personal satisfaction, someone always brings up money. “I’m not happy,” they’ll say, “But the money is good, so I can’t change.”

Notice what just happened:  they took a cultural reality — the ability to earn a good paycheck practicing law — and turned it into a rationale for personal powerlessness — an attitude that derives from the cultural norm of resisting change we looked at earlier in this series. We saw this attitude at work in our midst a couple years back, when two-thirds of the respondents to a Colorado lawyer salary and career satisfaction survey wouldn’t recommend their jobs to someone else, but meanwhile the money was good, and 40% felt financially constrained from considering other options.

Yes you can change, I reply, but you will suffer. That’s not a challenge to dig deep or rise above, it’s a recognition of how hard it is to change our neurological cultural wiring.(See this Huffington Post video re: the difference between pain and suffering.)

Jerry Maguire suffered to get back what he gave up in his show me the money moment. We will, too. Epiphanies exact a price; we have to pay it. And one of the ways we pay is with money.

If we’re going to have epiphanies, we must deal with “show me the money.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean less money. It wasn’t that way for me in my law practice, or for most of the people I know who’ve made the break to a new law culture. Next time, we’ll look at lawyers who’ve deliberately opted for career and personal satisfaction over money. Not everyone will make that choice, but reconfiguring our relationship with money — one way or another — is a necessary stage along on the path to changing our personal response to dominant law culture.

At least we’ll be in good company. A reporter asked Rohan Dennis, winner of this summer’s USA Pro Challenge cycling race in Colorado, how he’s had such a great year. “You have to learn to suffer,” he said.

‘til next time….

 

Author: Kevin Rhodes

Kevin Rhodes has been a lawyer for over 30 years. Drawing on insights gathered from science, technology, disruptive innovation, entrepreneurship, neuroscience, and psychology, and also from his personal experiences as a practicing lawyer and a “life athlete,” he’s on a mission to bring wellbeing to the people who learn, teach, and practice the law.

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