Kathryn Burmeister, also known as The Happiness Lawyer, details starting her own firm, abandoning the status quo, and the key to being happy in the industry.
Kathryn Burmeister is a self-described recovering attorney. She grew up on books like “To Kill A Mocking Bird” that fostered her passion for doing the right thing. An Atlanta native, she spent the first part of her career at a local personal injury firm until a call from the senior associate rocked the practice.
“It’s one of those things in your life like, ‘Where were you when 9/11 happened?’ It’s the same thing. I can just absolutely see the room, sitting there and the guest chairs across from someone’s desk.”
In this episode, Burmeister recalls the burnout she faced after the sudden suicide of her firm’s founding partner. As a young lawyer in a stressful and often overwhelming work environment, she quickly realized that how she was operating professionally was not sustainable. She left her firm after one year of helping to keep it afloat. After struggling with suicidal ideation, she knew that it was time to make a significant shift.
Building a Client Base and Ditching The Status Quo:
Soon after reaching her breaking point, which she likens to Chernobyl, she set off to start her own firm with a unique set of values. Burmeister details what set her firm apart from the competition, as well as how she built up her client base. Upon her exit from her last firm, she took all of the cases in litigation with her, using those clients as a cushion for her transition.
Her new firm was an anomaly among the competition. She strayed away from the traditional idea of what a law firm was and what a lawyer needed to look like. She stresses that her bare-bones approach, which axed suits, marble furniture, and corner offices, were the key to her success. She often met with clients in jeans, ditching the traditional lawyer look. Her team had no physical office, with her paralegals working remotely all over the country.
“The people who are really looking for the right attorneys they’re not going to care whether you have marble or granite…it’s whether you can do the job or not”
Burmeister describes the many benefits of her distributed firm. With no office to maintain, she was able to keep overhead low, which was crucial to her success.
Does Working in Law Make You Happy?
In her new book, “Overcoming Addiction to the Status Quo”, she offers tangible advice on how to be happy in your field.
In her career coaching programs, she first asks her clients a loaded question: Does working in law make you happy? Her three program options aim to help fellow lawyers prevent the kind of crisis that she faced early in her career. She stresses the importance of good sleep and boundary setting, such as not taking calls outside of work hours.
“Do you ever want to look back, whenever that is, and wish you spent more time working?”
Burmeister knows the value of meaningful, personal relationships and encourages her clients to pour into those relationships above all else. She approaches career happiness with pragmatic steps that are sure to help attorneys live a fulfilling life, no matter what stage of life they are in.
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