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Bar News - February 9, 2007

Book Review: Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life By Steven Keeva



Editor’s Note: Life Coach Betsy Black will be presenting the CLE “How to Balance Work and Home Life,” from 1:30-5 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 15, at the 2007 NHBA MidYear Meeting for 3.0 NHMCLE hours. She will be giving away a copy of the Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life by Steven Keeva during the presentation.


The title says it all: Transforming Practices: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life. This book by Steven Keeva offers a look at the challenges facing lawyers, and offers practical suggestions for making positive change. Keeva offers hope that lawyers can find greater satisfaction and joy in their work by making the effort to align that work with certain human values.


Keeva, assistant managing editor of the ABA Journal: The Lawyer’s Magazine, bases his insights on his experiences with lawyers throughout the United States. Jan R. Schlitchtmann, attorney author of A Civil Action, asserts in the foreword: “This book is leading a sorely needed transformation of our legal culture. Steve Keeva’s ideas, stories, and practical suggestions are that powerful.”


The book gives an overview of some of the endemic problems facing lawyers and an exploration of seven different ways in which a lawyer may focus his or her practice to overcome these challenges; it concludes with thoughts on how the profession is changing through integration of new behaviors. The book is peppered with insightful quotations, stories of lawyers’ successes and challenges, and questions and exercises to stimulate new thinking and behaviors.


Finding the Human Connection


Keeva notes that many lawyers experience a lack of human connection in their work and a loss of meaning; they must cope with intense competition and long work hours, among other things. He notes that these challenges often result in career dissatisfaction and high rates of substance abuse and depression.


He uses case studies to illustrate healthful options. “The Balanced Practice” profiles the journey of a busy Memphis litigator who began to study and apply the Rule of St. Benedict (prayer and work) in his life, in part as a response to losing his father. He has found a way to be more deliberate and balanced in his work and life.


Another chapter, “The Contemplative Practice,” explores how meditation and yoga can offer daily renewal for attorneys. Steven Schwartz, director of a public interest firm in Massachusetts, meditates two hours a day. Of meditation he says, “It saves me an incredible amount of time,” by creating space for non-linear and focused thinking. In addition, he notes, meditation brings constant renewal for doing difficult civil rights work that strives to bring about change over a long period of time.


In “The Mindful Practice,” Keeva describes Stacey, a bankruptcy lawyer. “When she is mindful…she feels as if she has a whole new palette of options available to her every minute of the day. Suddenly, she realizes that this amazing spectrum of choices has been there all along; she had only to turn on the light of awareness to notice it.” Mindfulness, often cultivated through meditation, is the process of observing one’s mental process in a non-judgmental way. It also means honestly observing how your brain works and increasing your ability to see more options.

            In “The Listening Practice,” Keeva details the value of listening with the intention of actually hearing a person who talks about something that is troubling him. Keeva tells of a case in which a man who owned a trucking company seemed simply to need legal advice about selling the company. He had an offer in hand for $12 million in excess of the value of the business. But one of the lawyers took the time to ask the man, “Do you really want to sell the company?” The man began crying; in fact, he did not want to sell the company that his father had started and which meant a great deal to him. By slowing the transaction down and listening, the lawyer did the right thing for his client, who, years later, still consistently refers business to that law firm.


Creating Space for Reflection


The theme pervading all the options described in the book is the value for lawyers of creating space for reflection or non-doing. Lawyers work diligently doing things, and the more there is to do, the greater the pressure and temptation to work even harder. The various options explored in this book challenge this work-style by offering options—make space for inner reflection and focus and you will ultimately increase your effectiveness and productivity, and establish a connection with yourself, your clients and your work.

            To whet your appetite for the many helpful practices in the book, here are just three of them to consider:


  • “Next time you find yourself waiting—for the dentist or for a train—instead of thinking of the time as wasted, try to see it as ‘found’ time” for you to use for renewal (p. 96);
  • “Imagine this: you are sitting before a toolbox in which all of your skills—legal and personal—are neatly arrayed. Try to imagine what you might be able to do with those skills to serve clients, the community, and humankind” (p. 135);
  • “Take time at least once a day to think about the things you feel grateful for” (p. 209).


The practice of law requires the consistent application of intellect, attention and diligent effort. Keeva offers the hope that if lawyers apply these same qualities to how they work, greater professional satisfaction is close at hand. Transforming Practices is a wonderfully insightful and practical book and I highly recommend it.


Betsy Black, J.D., A.C.C., is an accredited executive and life coach and lawyer who’s left the practice of law. Contact her at or call her at 603-228-6195.



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