I have been lucky to have a lot of autonomy in my career so far, but it’s also been a priority in my professional choices. Especially after reading in law school about the career dissatisfaction that many lawyers end up with, in part because of jobs that deprive them of autonomy, it’s become one of my priorities.
But what makes our work satisfying, aside from having the freedom to make decisions about what to work on, and choices to make in specific projects? It also comes down to our work environment: the people and teams we’re working with day to day, our larger organizations’ values and behaviors, and our professional community (or lack thereof). This goes back to culture! And when I was in law school, there was hardly any talk about the culture of work in law (other than to know that you should choose wisely about what kind of culture you end up in).
I’m particularly interested in how to create culture, in the same designerly way that we can approach access to justice, computable contracts, or other wicked challenges. How might we build lawyer work cultures that are more sustainable, collaborative, innovative, and sustaining? (Aka, that won’t burn us out, lead us to dead-ends, or bring us into unethical territories?)
Along with my legal design classes over the past 6 years, I’ve been working on a parallel project led by my partner Kursat Ozenc on rituals for better personal habits and work culture. We’ve just written & illustrated a book that captures our many interviews, designs, and research into how rituals can be a powerful strategy for people to build the culture they want.
Rather than wait for managers, HR leaders, executives, or others to create a good work culture — how can junior associates, interns, mid-level folks start to experiment and expand the types of culture they want? Especially if you are interested in building cultures that are creative, innovative, empathetic, collaborative, and resilient — we have collected many examples of specific practices that others have created to build cultures like this.
This book is not specifically targeted to lawyers, and most of its stories and research come from other fields — social psychology, tech companies, design agencies, hospitals, consumer products. But I hope that we in various legal organizations can also start investing in culture experiments: what kind of work place do we want to work in? And how do we build our own practices and team strategies that bring out the best from each other without burning ourselves out?