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Legally Speaking


Issue: December, 2009
Author: Sleeter C. Dover, Esq.

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An Insider's View

It is what it is. Heard that one before? Of course you have, and if you are at all like me, I often wonder just where such bromides come from, and even more, what does this one mean? I suppose the beauty of it is that it can mean about anything the speaker, or listener for that matter, wants it to mean. Somewhat of a treasure trove wrapped up in just five words....lawyer heaven! Or hell, depending on the lawyer in question, and/or the commitment to the spoken and written word any particular lawyer has. Oh come now....notwithstanding our particular penchant for “wordsmithing” and finding fault with most, if not all, of our colleagues written and spoken words, ultimately, our professional success often hinges on the ability, or lack thereof, to arrange the written and spoken word.

That is just one element of the lawyering profession that can, and has, resulted in misery and consternation among many of our fellow attorneys. As such, and as one element inexorably leads to another, likewise are the chances or prospects for many, many more such distressing elements arising in the profession. Inherent in my duties here along with the duties of your Officers and Commissioners here at the Wyoming State Bar, is the annual review and analysis of the results of the WSB Member Survey. You, on the other hand, have the luxury of reading and analyzing the results as a leisurely activity, while we here take a more scientific and critical approach to the results provided.

For instance, one feature of our last few surveys has been an inquiry into the “job satisfaction,” or more particularly, “professional satisfaction” of our members. Here things get a tad blurry. Are our members telling us that they are unhappy, dissatisfied, fed up, beat down, overwrought, or simply tired and disappointed in the practice of law? Are they telling us that the particular circumstance in which they find themselves is not providing the needed self-satisfaction or professional challenge they seek, or is it that they just somehow ended up in a profession that did not turn out at all to be what they thought from the outside looking in? The dilemma I face is to try to not only determine the answers to some of these burning questions, but to try to determine what, if anything, the Wyoming State Bar can or should do to lessen or overcome this reported dissatisfaction. I admit to you up front that I haven’t the slightest idea how to lessen someone else’s dissatisfaction with their profession. My suspicion is that it is as difficult, or more so, for one to achieve the same goal personally.

Nonetheless, the Officers and Commissioners have given your staff the assignment of evaluating this discouraging trend as part of our strategic plan over the next two years. Once again, being clever and using group-think to attack a problem, we arrived at a partial solution. We seek YOUR assistance! Seriously, without more in-depth information and specificity provided by our members, there is no way for us to even begin to evaluate this issue in a rational and reasonable manner. Oh sure, we can easily engage in unfounded “psycho-babble” that, aside from having no validity at all, you will clearly be able to see right through and know that not only have we lost credibility in the realm of “psycho-babble” but likewise in the realm of membership accountability.

Thus, I am calling upon each of you that responded to our survey with less than hopeful and encouraging thoughts to take the additional step of sharing with us personally your stories and the basis for much of your unhappiness or concern. While I can certainly assure each of you of confidentiality, it is so critical that we receive this information, if you will be more comfortable, it is not even necessary that you sign or otherwise identify yourself. I need circumstances, anecdotes, personal experiences, specific aspects of your practice that leave you feeling less than fulfilled, etc. Of even more importance, what actions could or should the Wyoming State Bar take to mitigate your concerns? Did your concerns develop due to financial issues? Isolation and/or lack of professional comradeship? Civility or lack thereof?
Workload leading to conflicts with family, friends, etc.? Lack of professional research resources? Billing and collections?

The non-exhaustive list outlined above is certainly not to be considered all encompassing, and one should most assuredly address those non-listed matters of concern that are either specific to or generally applicable to your legal practice and experiences. You can no doubt see the difficulty we are facing. The potential negative influences impacting ones satisfaction with a particular profession are limitless. Yet, it is beyond the ability of this office to in any way isolate and definitively draw conclusions as to what may or may not negatively impact one member as opposed to another member. Your honest and forthright contribution to this effort has the potential to provide long lasting and unforeseen positive impacts on our current and future members.

All things being equal, my preference would be that we were able to engage a professional entity with both the training and experience to clinically evaluate the current professional and emotional standing of the state of the Wyoming State Bar membership. Now, whoa there, pardners! In no way am I suggesting that we are all maybe just a little bit off plumb and in need of some “professional help” to get reoriented (well, maybe there’s a couple of us that could maybe use a small bit of “adjustment”). What I am suggesting is that things change, and we—all of us—do not always recognize the changes going on around us until we end up caught in the vortex that threatens to swallow us whole. Would that the sands of time would flow evenly and predictably. Under such conditions, there would never be any reason to contemplate the level of satisfaction, contentment, and fulfillment we were so sure of upon initially choosing our honored profession. Alas, the word has come forth from the mouths (or surveys) of our own. I do not believe it to be hyperbole to assert that the very future of our profession, at least in some form and to some degree, rests on the ultimate attention and actions taken to address this issue. Let us not in this instance resort to that old standby, “it is what it is!”

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