Adventures in Meaningful Work: Contributing to Something Greater

August 03, 2022

We spend the vast majority of our adult lives working. For many of us, work is the barometer of our self-worth. Truly meaningful work gives the sense that we are contributing to something greater than the self. Although research suggests that employees who experience work as meaningful may enhance an organization’s bottom line, at Morgan Lewis, we believe meaningful work is an important target in its own right and contributes to the lasting well-being of our lawyers and professional staff.

Recently, Morgan Lewis Director of Employee Well-Being Adam Reiber and labor and employment partner Louise Skinner got together to discuss how and why their chosen line of work is important to them, the challenges and opportunities associated with the legal profession, and how it contributes to something greater than themselves.

AR: What are some of the well-being challenges lawyers confront in their daily work?

LS: I’m very proud of being a lawyer and have been since graduating from law school. It’s always meant a lot to me, and a large part of my personal identity comes from my work. While all this is true, I think it’s important to reflect on some of the reasons why lawyers can experience particular challenges that may at times leave us feeling overwrought, helpless, and even out of control.

Understanding what causes these feelings can help us address them, seek support where we need to, and make important changes. From my perspective, there are a few factors that contribute to our feeling the ways I described. As lawyers, our work can feel intense and, at times, repetitive. This feeling was especially compounded throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, at the height of which many of us found it difficult to find any release from our high-pressure, sometimes emotionally exhausting work. Additionally, as lawyers in private practice, our financial success is essentially measured by how much time we put into our work. Billing time in such a way creates unique stressors.

While we can’t negate these factors all of the time, if we can also focus on the positive aspects of our work to achieve some balance, such as the satisfaction that comes from helping clients and the unique variety of matters we encounter, we can derive real meaning from the work that we do.

AR: What are some of the positives you leverage to create balance?

LS: Having a strong support network is one of them. Not only do colleagues and clients provide friendship and support—from setting up remote playdates with our children during COVID-19 and supporting each other’s efforts to make an impact in our communities—but they also present learning opportunities. I get to work with some of the best of the best—many of whom I see as role models in addition to being leaders in their fields. Regardless of which side you’re on in a mentoring relationship, I find the benefits to be mutual. Another part of my support system at the firm is our programming and resources, like our well-being program, ML Well, and our various affinity groups. The latter brings together everyone from new parents to veterans, forming support systems among those with similar backgrounds or circumstances.

It may seem contradictory, but we’re also afforded a level of flexibility in the legal industry that members of other professional fields may not enjoy. Thanks to the technology we have access to, I can collaborate with my global colleagues and clients from almost anywhere at any time. This means on a given day I can space out my work to make time for things like a doctor’s appointment, parent-teacher conference, or volunteer work if needed, while making sure my clients’ needs are met.

AR: What can you tell us about your meaningful work story and what has helped you derive meaning from your work?

LS: I have always loved being around people and am interested in people’s lives—essentially, this is what employment law is all about. One of the ways I have derived more meaning from my work is by carving out my own path within my practice. This strategy is especially one I recommend to new lawyers as a way to identify what really interests them within their practice and also differentiate their expertise from others. It can include embracing a particular industry sector or becoming a subject matter expert in a specific or niche area. For instance, I am very interested in diversity, equity, and inclusion; harassment; and discrimination and have focused on becoming known to clients and peers in these areas. Not only has this helped me to find more meaning in my work, but also to build a good reputation in areas of employment law that I enjoy the most. Additionally, exploring and building my practice in the sports industry has been exciting and a lot of fun. Focusing on the things I find interesting or am passionate about has really helped me build an interesting and varied practice, especially as I’ve benefited from the shared passion of my colleagues in these niche spaces. Creating or exploring a signature space within your field can help you derive more meaning, and joy, from your work.

My involvement in the firm’s global business development network for women, ML Women, has also been an extremely worthwhile investment of my time and energy. I love supporting other women and pursuing business development opportunities for and with the amazing women I work with at the firm and among our client base. Our relationships energize me and my work every day.

AR: We know meaningfulness can be good, but is it easy?

LS: Not always, no. But, I’m a strong believer that we would not truly be able to enjoy good times if we didn’t experience hardship along the way. While the nature of legal work is challenging, the challenge is, in part, what makes it so interesting, and of course, rewarding. It’s going to be hard—we’re helping people and companies through some of their most difficult times. But it’s also very satisfying in that regard. To play a positive role and be a resource during a particularly difficult time for a person or organization is very meaningful, whether you’re advocating on behalf of a large corporation facing regulatory challenges or a family in search of asylum. It’s these difficult moments in law (and life) that bring meaning.

AR: How can having meaning in your work contribute to an exceptional client experience?

LS: My clients are one of the things I love most about my work. Simply put, when I find meaning in my work, I’m a better lawyer. I’d argue that I’m a better person all around (mother, sister, friend). When I’m performing at my best, my clients also benefit. We’re on parallel tracks for the most part—what’s good for me is good for them. The reverse is true as well.

Deriving meaning from our work can help us better perform in all aspects of our life and truly thrive. As discussed here, identifying and appreciating our individual stressors at work while balancing them with the more positive aspects of what we do, as well as implementing tactics like carving out our own path within our chosen areas of practice, can help us be better versions of ourselves in and outside the workplace.

This discussion was hosted by ML Well. The firm’s ML Well program is a unique, holistic approach to promoting thriving through intellectual, physical, emotional, and occupational well-being coupled with an underlying emphasis on engagement and community. Learn more about ML Well.