Lawyers, Make These 5 SMART New Year’s Resolutions Today

SMART New Year's ResolutionsEvery January, millions of Americans take part in a tradition stretching back thousands of years: making New Year’s resolutions. And every March, millions of Americans take part in another tradition: failing to keep their New Year’s resolutions.

We at the Commission on Professionalism are in the business of aspirational goals, and we want to help you keep those goals. So instead of aiming for regular New Year’s resolutions, let’s aim for something else: SMART New Year’s resolutions.

You probably know SMART. Specific. Measurable. Attainable. Relevant. Time-Bound. I don’t pretend to be an expert on SMART psychology, but I do recognize the benefits of making your resolutions limited, specific, and time-based. As 2016 draws to a close, let’s use these 5 SMART New Year’s resolutions for lawyers, particularly young lawyers, to jump-start a healthier, happier and more successful 2017.

1. Get SMART about Stress

In 2015, Americans’ top New Year’s resolution was: “Stay fit and healthy.” I’ll put health as number one as well. It’s an issue that should particularly resonate with lawyers. We have a higher rate of depression, suicide and addiction than a large portion of our professional population. Much of that is directly correlated to our consistently high levels of stress. That’s why my first resolution for attorney wellness is this: get SMART about stress.

Here’s a technique that works: mindfulness. Mindfulness is more than deep breathing. Practicing mindfulness rewires your brain and makes you more aware of your external and internal environment, including your stress triggers. Through mindfulness, you can engage with and overcome your stress. Here’s a great article on how to start you out. Try for one minute one day, then two minutes the next. Get up to ten minutes per day by the end of January. Reevaluate on January 31 and see how a month of mindfulness has helped you.

2. Get SMART About Leadership

To paraphrase the inimitable Solange Knowles, 2017 is when you get your seat at the table. Lawyers have long been leaders in this country. With our unique knowledge of the law and the justice system, and let’s be honest, our Type A leanings, we tend to show up ready to run the room. But if you’re not already a leader, then you’ll need to start somewhere. Let’s be SMART about leadership in 2017.

By March 2017, aim to plan one event or lead one initiative in 2017 with your volunteer non-profit, neighborhood group or bar association. If you’re not a member of any of those, aim to have coffee with a board member or executive in any of these organizations so you can find out how you can join their ranks. You may not become chairman of the board in three months, but at least you can be on the path to leadership.

3. Get SMART about Social Media

If 2016 has taught us anything (and it’s taught us a lot), it’s that social media matters. Despite those telling us to quit social media, I advise you to do something a little different. Don’t use social media to replace real life; use it to enhance real life. How do you get SMART about social media in 2017? Work on your LinkedIn profile.

Once a month in 2017, go on to your LinkedIn profile and do a LinkedIn “audit”. Check your profile (make sure you have a picture) and update your skills, interests, achievements, publications and conferences. At the same time once per month, take a look at your network and find one new person to reach out to directly. It may be a quick email, it may be a longer lunch. Use social media to enhance real life. It’s a New Year’s resolution that’s a win-win for everyone.

4. Get SMART about Giving

In 2015, over 30,000 lawyers in Illinois performed approximately 2 million hours of pro bono legal services. Over 17,000 lawyers donated $15 million to pro bono legal organizations. Those numbers are staggering. But what’s also staggering? The access to justice gap that remains. If you’re one of the thousands of lawyers who has devoted time to pro bono work, please keep going; we need you. If you’re not, then here’s your SMART resolution for 2017.  Find one new organization, just one this year, to donate your time to.

Because for many of these organizations, your time as a lawyer is far more valuable than the money that you can give. How do you start? Illinois Legal Aid Online has a list of 125 concrete volunteer opportunities for Illinois lawyers. The Chicago Bar Foundation has this excellent pro bono opportunities guide for attorneys here in Chicago. And this June, I’ll be taking the Lawyers’ Assistance Program volunteer training to join the over 400 lawyers who serve as peer support, on intervention teams, and speak around the state, for addiction and stress-related issues. Let me know if you want to join me.

5. Get SMART about Work

For most of us, 2017 will have 250 working days. Take out the four days that the average American takes for vacation, and you’re looking at 246 working days of the year. 246 of 365 days of 2017. How many of those days will you spend bored? Dispirited? Unengaged? In 2015, only 32% of U.S. employees reported being engaged at work. For something that we spend a vast majority of our waking lives at, it falls on each of us to make our work more engaging. There are innumerable ways to get more engaged in your job, but here’s one that near and dear to my heart – teaching. Go teach. You know your practice, you know your work, and you know what’s important for your peers, or the next generation of your peers, to know. So in 2017, your SMART New Year’s resolution is to find one opportunity to teach what you know.

Start a blog, volunteer to teach a law school class, facilitate a CLE program, submit a conference proposal, join the Commission’s Mentoring Program. Share the knowledge that you have learned, and in turn, get engaged with what you do every single day of your working life. In December 2017, I hope you can look at your year and say, “I taught this, and it was good.”

Happy New Year

5 SMART New Year’s Resolutions for 2017. Do you have any other suggestions? Leave them in the comments below. And for those who are going to tackle these resolutions, I hope to hear from you in 2017. Happy New Year, everyone.

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