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Happiness is not overrated with Demetrio Zema

The legal profession is being challenged on numerous fronts these days. Young lawyers are leading the call for more enriching and positive experiences, and happier work environments.

The late American entrepreneur Jim Rohn was onto something when he said, “Happiness is not by chance, but by choice.” It’s a point of view shared by Demetrio Zema, the founder and director of Law Squared. Zema has voiced his concern about the number of people in the legal profession who are unhappy, and he is urging lawyers to look for ways to change the profession and its perception by the public for the better.

“Why is it that the legal profession has such a bad reputation and how, as a profession, have we got it so wrong?” he asks.

Zema is very open about his own experience, of how in 2015 he was working in private practice where he was a disgruntled and sad litigation lawyer, burned out, exhausted and bitterly unhappy. He dreaded social situations where he might be asked what he did for a job, which would invariably lead to someone chipping in with a tasteless joke about lawyers or comments about financial greed.

When it comes to lawyers’ wellbeing, statistics make painful reading. A study in the 2016 Journal of Addictive Medicine revealed that 20.6 percent of lawyers had a serious problem with alcohol, 28 percent suffered from depression, 19 percent from anxiety, and 23 percent were in a state of stress.

Zema recognized that to give himself the future he wanted he had to break away from the hamster wheel that is private practice. The desire to change the profession for the better was a key driver for Zema as was being happy – professionally and personally.

“I had a clear mission when I started Law Squared to change the conversation people were having about lawyers. Rather than the negative comments and bad jokes, I wanted people to be talking positively, about how they knew a good lawyer or a law firm, where it wasn’t about the money, the billable hour, but about the outcomes achieved.”

Zema also talks about lawyers inadvertently being the handbrake to happiness for their employers. How a lack of technology equates to a lack of efficiency which in turn means playing a less satisfying role within the business. “The value of you as an in-house counsel is not in reviewing contracts, it’s not being a handbrake to happiness, it’s about being a key strategic commercial partner and helping the business to achieve its end goals. It’s not reducing the amount of money the firm spends on externals or trying to replace that, it’s about understanding from a partnership perspective what the executive are trying to achieve, what the shareholders want to achieve, and what your role in that is going to be.

“Our role as lawyers is not to make the decision for the business. Where we see legal teams get it wrong is where they become the handbrake to happiness. The value you add to a business is not being that handbrake, the value you add is in finding the solution so the business can achieve its objectives.”

As well as handbrake to happiness, Zema uses the term legal hug. “Sometimes it’s about the legal hug, people just want the hug. What is your legal hug going to be?”

Happiness and hugs are words that have positive connotations, as does value add. Zema says a key driver for any lawyer should be a desire to be a practical and commercial partner for the business they work for, it should be about the business saying make sure this goes to legal rather than how do we avoid sending this to legal.

Imagine a work environment where people were happy to willingly engage with legal.

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