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Yes, You Can Practice Law and Still Have a Soul

By Mark Wilson, Esq. | Last updated on

In addition to being on TV for most of the 1990s, and providing a platform for a post-"Bill and Ted" but pre-"Matrix" Keanu Reeves, "The Devil's Advocate" confirmed for the world that lawyers are evil. Al Pacino's character was literally the devil. How else could he be a defense attorney?

In practice, we do sometimes joke about "selling our souls" to BigLaw, but can you practice law and still have a soul?

Yoga, Meditation, Praying, Whatever -- Just Do Something

Of course you can, says Rev. Scotty McLennan, the former dean of religious life at Stanford, who told Stanford Business School's "Insights" magazine how businesspeople can incorporate religion, spirituality, or even quiet reflection into their busy schedules.

But having soul doesn't just mean being mindful or meditating; it also means being ethical, which is not one of the many adjectives often used to describe lawyers. In reality, lawyers know that they must act ethically, and the vast majority try to. McLennan says that integrating some kind of spirituality into your life also necessarily involves integrating ethics (although being ethical can certainly be accomplished without being religious).

Feel Good About What You Do

Usually, though, when we talk about having a "soul" in the law, it's got less to do with being religious, spiritual, or philosophical, and more to do with the type of work we're doing. Lawyers coming out of law school aren't looking to defend a tobacco company against an old woman dying of cancer -- it just sort of happens. It's these situations, where we wonder whether we're actually making a difference and who (if anyone) we're helping, that cause us to wonder if we can practice law and have a soul.

There are ways to mitigate that without leaving the BigLaw, MidLaw, or for that matter, the SmallLaw world. Most law firms encourage pro bono work, which can be a fulfilling alternative to a practice area that you're not particularly enthusiastic about. There are also volunteer opportunities outside the law firm (if you can achieve the mythical work-life balance that has eluded so many associates).

If you really are unhappy, though, it may be time for a change that no religion, spirituality, or meditation can help you with. Open up your own firm. Go to another firm and pick a practice area you're more passionate about. Move in-house. Or take a vacation to reassess what you want. "The law" is a pretty big place, with lots of opportunities to not only make money, but be enriched at the same time.

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