The Newfangled Lawyer's Guide to Being



Men go forth to wonder at the heights of mountains, the huge waves of the sea, the broad flow of the rivers, the vast compass of the ocean, the courses of the stars, and they pass by themselves without wondering. —St. Augustine

By Patrick Patino

Working in the legal profession can feel like stepping into a pressurized room where you control one knob and external forces control the other. You are in control, but not really. The illusion of control can provide comfort, although it’s usually short-lived. The pressure exerts extreme force on your body, mind, spirit, and well-being. You fear stepping outside of the room because that is where you’ve been told to be. You have convinced yourself that the only way to succeed is under pressure. Lawyers perpetuate this self-confirming bias when sharing war stories and what it takes to be “objectively successful.” If you aren’t feeling the pressure, you aren’t pushing yourself hard enough; you aren’t sacrificing yourself. In order to be an attorney, the dials must be turned up to the max, steam hissing out of cracks in the piping, at the perfect threshold of bursting. Tied rags and duct tape hold the system together. It works, but you’re barely holding on. 

I have been at this breaking point numerous times during my almost 10-year legal career. The nonexhaustive list of physical manifestations of this pressure have ranged from panic attacks to kidney stones to stress hives. The non-physical manifestations have been the shadows and ghosts that hover inside your mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. They color everything. They’re the lens through which you look at life. They’re the shroud that you wear as you go about your life. 

I’ve struggled with anxiety, depression, paranoia, perfectionism, indifference, addiction and obsessiveness. I became attached to these coping mechanisms because I convinced myself that it was part of the deal. It was a cost of the benefit of practicing law. But this understanding almost broke me and isn’t sustainable. 

I usually shy away from this topic because I don’t like seeming dramatic. But talking about the very real pressure on attorneys isn’t being dramatic. This is what it means to be a human who practices law. It is tough. It is rewarding. It has costs. I am inviting you to re-evaluate and re-examine those costs. 

The longer I practice, the more I realize that we can step outside of the pressurized room. We can be okay with not being okay and admitting we need a break, to turn the pressure down. My words are not a prescription, but rather a guide meant to shine a light on different ways of being. I share my experiences as a personal call to action to challenge the professional norms as well as an invitation to others to join the conversation. Personal narrative is a powerful tool to drive change because it normalizes an experience that others can share in. My hope is that other lawyers can see themselves in my narrative. 

Krista Tippet, the host of On Being, has a short and sweet mantra that I’ve been using lately, “what we practice, we become,” which is simple, but not easy. Here are some simple practices that you can incorporate into your legal practice to assist with being: 

Give yourself permission to be yourself. The very person you have been searching for is already present. Stop waiting for someone else or some external power to give you permission. You have the autonomy and agency to live your life, not someone else’s life. Have confidence in yourself. You are brave enough to step into yourself. 

Start living a contingency-free life. Practicing non-attachment can divest you from living an outcome-determinative life. I will be happy when I have money. I will stop stressing when the clients aren’t so needy. I will start exercising when this case is over. Living this way pushes the actual living of your life out beyond the present moment. This can lead to high levels of dissatisfaction and discontent, always feeling like your life depends on some future happening. 

Adopt a mindfulness practice. Be where you are and focus on what you are doing at that moment. When you’re doing dishes, do dishes. When you’re mowing the lawn, mow the lawn. When you are lamenting a missed opportunity, lament. Notice that I did not encourage you to sit still in the classic cross-legged pose, emptying your mind of all thoughts. Mindfulness can be practiced in whatever you are doing and wherever you are. 

Practice self-compassion. Don’t be so darn hard on yourself. Humans make mistakes. The next time you hear that self-critical voice whispering in your mind, tell it to be quiet. You don’t have to listen to it. After a hard client or peer interaction, take some time to take care of yourself. Pause, breathe, and be kind to yourself. 

Take action. You can let life happen to you or you can happen to life. If you’ve been wanting to get rid of your social media, do it. If you’ve been wanting to learn pottery, do it. If you’re tired of always being combative, change your practice area or your environment. Inertia can become your default way of being. Physics provides that an object in motion stays in motion. You can’t sit back and expect your life to be a certain way if you do not take action. 

I do not claim to have it all figured out because the work of being is an ongoing journey with no real final destination. Lawyers love outcomes and goals. But what happens when that is all there is? A lifetime of asking, “What happens next?” What if instead we focused on wondering about ourselves with awe like peering up into the endless night sky on a clear night? I’d like to believe that we’d start walking out of the pressurized rooms. I’d like to believe that we would start taking better care of ourselves instead of disregarding ourselves. We would see that the cost has been too high and that we have permission to change the paradigm. 

Let’s all support each other with collectively turning down the pressure. 

Patrick Patino is an attorney at and owner of Patino King and Yost LLC, a bankruptcy law firm in Minnesota & Nebraska. He hosts The Newfangled Lawyer Podcast where he chats with other attorneys in order to humanize the attorney experience. He is also owner and operator of The Newfangled Lawyer (, a law firm consulting business for attorneys daring to do things differently. Contact him at or
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