Making a Living as a Peacemaker
We all know lawyers who are not making a substantial living in their traditional practice areas, especially in the recent economic downturn. And we all know others who are somehow able to maintain an abundant lifestyle no matter what they try. This movement is no different. I conducted a survey recently. Only 34 people participated, so it is by no means scientific. The anecdotal evidence was interesting. I asked them to report their income from litigation as compared to their income from a more peacemaking-oriented practice.
More than $500,000 per year 0.0%
$250,000 to $500,000 per year 14.7
$200,000 to $249,000 per year 14.7
$150,000 to $199,000 per year 11.8
$100,000 to $149,000 per year 8.8
$50,000 to $99,000 per year 26.5
Less than $50,000 per year 23.5
Income Before Peacemaking Practice
More than $500,000 per year 0.0%
$250,000 to $500,000 per year 21.4
$200,000 to $249,000 per year 14.3
$150,000 to $199,000 per year 21.4
$100,000 to $149,000 per year 7.1
$50,000 to $99,000 per year 25.0
Less than $50,000 per year 10.7
In comments, some indicated that their income had actually gone up after they adopted the new type of practice:
• The change in income is largely due to the fact that, in litigation, I often don’t charge for all the hours that I spend on a case, like having to review the case before a continued hearing and other trial preparation time. In mediation and collaborative cases, I bill for almost all the time I spend on the case.
• My income has actually grown somewhat since I began the shift, primarily because collaborative clients are happier clients and more willing to pay, whereas litigation clients, no matter how happy they may be with the result, tend to forget about their lawyer’s bill when the case is over.
• I have not had a change in income, partly due to the limited number of collaborative cases I have handled. However, my quality of life has improved by taking on this type of work!
• I was better at putting transactions together than fighting in court, so that probably has put me into a practice type that I market better.
• I have a high percentage of satisfied clients paying their bills (low collectibles) and good referrals from previous clients, as well as low-to-no advertising costs.
Some reported transitional changes in income and unrelated issues that affected income:
• After I first made the switch, I had two lean years. Now my income is as high as it ever was.
• My annual income decreased considerably when I left the partnership in 1993. Starting in 2001, I followed the Barbara Brennan School of Healing in Florida for five years, [which] took more than 50 percent of my working hours. After graduation in 2006, my income did not increase. I could not find energy to continue my practice full time again. In 2007–2008 I took a sabbatical period and started thinking about how jurisprudence and conflict resolution should be shaped in a sustainable society. Since my return, I am changing my practice, and my work. At the moment, my turnover and income is extremely low. I write articles and expect that my new activities will generate a much better income within one year. In any event: I feel much happier the way I am working instead of practicing adversarial law.
• My income decreased due to the economic crisis and my own drive to have more time on my hands.
• I believe the recession and failing real estate market have contributed more to my loss of income than the change in my mission.
Or that their work habits changed and that affected their income:
• I work many fewer hours per week. I have a more balanced life that allows me to do many other things that interest me. My primary other source of income is my husband’s earnings.
• I do less intentionally.
In my survey, I also asked for comments about quality of life.
• [The major change in] the quality of my life is the decrease in stress. When I don’t have frequent court appearances and deadlines, my whole demeanor changes. I have more time for myself, and I’m much
happier and relaxed.
• I am a lot happier and I live on less.
• I am more in charge of my schedule.
• [I have a] more positive quality of life as I work with both clients and colleagues with a different attitude. I also have enjoyed getting to know collaborative colleagues from many different communities. I do not wake up at night so often, worried about my cases.
• I love my practice, for the most part. I used to be a criminal defense attorney and now I get to work with families. Clearly, I like working with and helping folks through distressing times in their lives.
And finally, I invited the respondents to give advice to anyone considering making the change:
• I think the practice of law is changing, and it’s better to be at the forefront than left behind. Most clients want a different approach, so it makes both business and quality-of-life sense.
• Collaborative professionals (especially lawyers) need advanced training and experience before they really have a clue what they are doing in a collaborative case. It is much harder than litigation. It requires far more thought and intellect.
• Be authentic and very present. Do not give up. Following your passion will reveal itself in the quality of your work and the abundance of your practice.
• I still welcome litigation if I like the client and feel it’s the right thing to do, and that we are the right fit to work together. That doesn’t mean I am glad that the client is in litigation, only that as long as litigation is around, I’ll probably keep doing some contested divorces for the right clients.
• The important thing is to make a plan about transitioning, setting goals, and trying to meet them. Otherwise, it simply won’t happen. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, turn down the cases you don’t want by telling the litigation referral that you’ve changed your practice and appreciate their referral, and send it to another attorney who hopefully will reciprocate with a mediation or collaborative referral. It can be hard to turn down cases at first, but it’s necessity to make a transition.
Excerpted from Lawyers as Peacemakers, Practicing Holistic, Problem-Solving Law by J. Kim Wright.