by Daniel DeWoskin
One cannot say enough about the importance of caring about the work one does. As attorneys, many of us are passionate about our work and are well suited for the work that we do. For those of us who fit into this category, we are very fortunate. The fact that our work is fulfilling for us may often mean that we will be less likely to experience burnout in our professional careers. We all have lawyer friends or colleagues who are not happy in their jobs, but cannot seem to find a way to transition to a “better job.” Of course, by “better” I am not speaking merely of a higher paying position, but a job that is rewarding on a much higher level.
Recently, someone at a dinner party asked my good friend Darice Good about her work as the co-executive director of the Georgia Office of Family Representation, which is a non-profit organization established for the purpose of representing parents in the child welfare system. Darice was asked bluntly why she was so passionate about her work, and her response, poignant and thoughtful, captivated a room full of people who are not attorneys.
I, too, was impressed by her answer, and I often hear people give impassioned speeches about their work as attorneys in the public sector or private sector. So what was it about her response that was so insightful? To begin, Darice said that in all the years she spent handling divorce cases and working in the juvenile courts, she noticed a void in the attention devoted to parental rights in the grand scheme. Although the courts are supposed to be equipped to address the needs of deprived children, the resources for education for parents seemed lacking. It goes without saying that any reasonable person can envision the devastation caused if and when a child falls through the cracks in the system, but what about the parents?
Obviously, this is a much more complex issue than simply labeling or designating good parents and bad parents. Many parents whose children end up in juvenile court lacked the essential tools necessary to be good parents. Regardless of whether it was poor supervision, bad decision-making, abuse, neglect, or a host of other factors, many of these parents did not stand much of a chance as parents. By the time Darice says she encountered them at hearings, they stood even less of a chance in court. Darice spent years studying policy advocacy, the differences in how Georgia courts address juvenile matters from those of other jurisdictions, and new approaches that may be more efficient, more expedient, and more reliable in protecting the safety and health of Georgia families. By the time she created the Georgia Office of Family Representation, Darice had become one of the most knowledgeable experts in parent representation and had been asked to speak on the subject in dozens of jurisdictions across the country.
Darice has racked up a lot of experience, and most recently been appointed to the Steering Committee of the Parents Representation Project of the American Bar Association. Once again, the reason I write this article is not simply to acknowledge the good work of my friend, but to comment on how Darice’s professional drive, her passion for those whom she represents and those whom she cannot yet reach but hopes to in the near future, transcends her role as an attorney. The personal satisfaction that she derives from her work is palpable.
I know many people, attorneys included, who love their jobs. Few are as content and personally fulfilled by the work they do on an everyday basis as Darice. And so it occurred to me at this dinner party that this is the brass ring, what I strive for in my own practice and achieve much of the time. Sure, there are good days and bad days, but every single day that Darice labors in her organization, she knows with certainty that she is doing much more than advancing the cause of one family
It is difficult to find work that is intellectually stimulating, financially viable, and rewarding to the soul, all at the same time. I have found that these are most often the factors that will prevent professional burnout, but every one of us has different criteria for the perfect job. Thinking back on the question that Darice was asked, “Why are you so passionate about your work,” has caused me to think about how empty I might feel if I was asked the same question and really only got up in the morning to get a paycheck.
As attorneys, we have a tremendous amount of control over the type of work we do and the quality of that work. We are in a better position than many people in our community and those we serve who may have simply stumbled into whatever job they have. Perhaps our decisions were not as deliberate as I make them sound, but I do think we owe it to ourselves to at least try to find work that inspires us to be better lawyers and productive members of our community.