Sign In
    Wisconsin Lawyer
    June 01, 2015

    On Balance
    Building Hope into Your Law Practice

    Being hopeful is much more than perspective; it inspires coworkers, increases productivity and resilience, and helps people withstand the negative effects of illness and stressful occurrences.

    Paula M. Davis-Laack

    waking upAs I was reflecting on my career path recently, I was struck by how strong an influence hope has played in my career. While a lawyer’s main role is to provide legal representation to clients, I would argue that a secondary, more unspoken role is to provide hope. Whether you’re representing a client who is closing on a home, recovering from a car accident, looking to purchase a business, or navigating the criminal justice system, you’re helping the client achieve a particular goal while thinking about the possibilities for the future.

    Although many people think of hope as an emotion, my goal in this article is to describe it as a cognitive theory that is tied to goal setting. Hope researcher, Dr. C.R. Snyder, often described hope with this phrase: “You can get there from here.” He believed that life is made up of many thousands of instances in which you think about and figure out how to get from Point A to Point B.1

    Have you considered how, or even whether, hope affects your family, law practice, or health? There is a science of hope, and the research is robust. Hopeful people share four core beliefs:

    • The future will be better than the present.
    • You have a say in how your life unfolds.
    • There are multiple pathways to achieving personal and professional goals.
    • There will be obstacles.2

    High levels of hope have been linked to less absenteeism, more productivity, and greater health and happiness.3 Below is a summary of some of the hope research.

    Hope and Leadership

    To be effective, leaders must be skilled at building hope in their followers. A Gallup Organization research team interviewed 10,000-plus people and asked them to describe the leader who had the most positive influence on their daily lives. These followers were asked to describe this influential leader in three words. The research showed that followers want their leaders to meet four psychological needs: stability, trust, compassion, and hope.4

    Many leaders spend the bulk of their time putting out fires and reacting to demands. Inspiring leaders have also figured out how to craft a hopeful message about the future. 

    Hope and Productivity

    Hope and productivity are connected. I suspect that on the days you get the most done, you have a strong sense of what your goals are combined with the energy to accomplish what you want. Increased levels of productivity translate into business results. Hopeful salespeople reach their quotas more often, hopeful mortgage brokers process and close more loans, and hopeful managing executives meet their quarterly goals more often.5

    Hope, Stress, and Resilience

    When you experience stress, how do you respond? People with high levels of hope typically generate more strategies for effectively coping with a stress-producing event and express a greater likelihood of using one of the strategies generated. High-hope people are flexible, accurate, and thorough thinkers; that is, they have the cognitive flexibility to find alternative solutions when they get knocked off course. Low-hope people tend to ruminate unproductively about being stuck, use avoidance as a coping strategy, and fail to learn from past experiences.6

    Hope and Your Health

    What kinds of choices do you make about your health on a daily basis? Most lawyers will be affected by a serious illness, whether it happens to themselves or to a loved one. A number of studies indicate that hopeful people tolerate pain better than do their less hopeful peers.7 When it comes to children, a child’s level of hope is a significant predictor of whether he or she will actually follow a doctor’s orders.8

    Hope and Social Connection

    Research by Dr. Larry Richard reveals that lawyers tend to be extremely low in the personality trait of sociability. His research shows that lawyers are generally in the 12th percentile in this trait (compared to the 50th percentile for the general population), which means that lawyers may find initiating new and personal connections difficult and tend to rely on relationships that already exist. Many lawyers prefer to deal with information and matters of the “head” rather than matters of the “heart.”9

    Paula Davis-LaackPaula Davis-Laack, Marquette 2002, MAPP, is the founder and CEO of the Davis Laack Stress and Resilience Institute, an organization that educates attorneys and professionals about how to better manage stress, prevent burnout, and build resilience. She is the author of the e-book, 10 Things Happy People Do Differently.

    Hope can help lawyers bridge that social-capital gap. People with higher levels of hope often have close connections with other people because they are interested in other people’s goals and lives. Research also shows that high-hope people have an enhanced ability to take the perspective of others and enjoy interacting with other people. Higher levels of hope are also associated with more perceived social support, more social competence, and less loneliness.10

    Defining and Learning Hope

    Hope is a process that includes three parts or elements. The first part is goals. Hope stems from the goals that matter most to us as we shape where we want to go in life and in work. The second part is agency. Agency is our ability to feel like we can produce results in our lives and make things happen. The third part is pathways. There will often be many routes you can take to accomplish your goals. Being able to identify these different routes, along with the obstacles that might arise, is vital to being hopeful.11

    Not only does hope have so many work and life benefits, it can also be learned. One of the best ways to build your own hope and the hope of the lawyers you work with is to let them figure out how to get unstuck. You may be tempted to fix the problem, but try to ask these questions instead:

    • “What do you think you should do?”
    • “Can you think of more than one possibility/solution?”
    • “Which solution would work best?”12

    How hopeful you are has important work and life implications. It affects how well you lead, how you take care of your health, and how productive you are at work. Being a hopeful thinker about the future will help you build your resilience and give you yet another tool for handling stress, change, and adversity.


    1 C.R. Snyder, The Psychology of Hope 5 (New York, NY: Free Press, 1994).

    2 Shane J. Lopez, Making Hope Happen: Create the Future You Want for Yourself and Others 18-19 (New York, NY: Atria Books, 2013).

    3 Id. at 52.

    4 Tom Rath & Barry Conchie, Strengths-Based Leadership: Great Leaders, Teams, and Why People Follow 79-91 (New York, NY: Gallup, 2009).

    5 Lopez, supra note 2, at 53-56.

    6 Kevin L. Rand & Jennifer S. Cheavens, Hope Theory, in Shane J. Lopez & C.R. Snyder eds., Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology 2nd Edition 323-333,329 (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2009).

    7 C.R. Snyder et al., Hope against the Cold: Individual Differences in Trait Hope and Acute Pain Tolerance on the Cold Pressor Task, 73 J. of Personality, 287-312 (2005).

    8 Carla J. Berg, Michael A. Rapoff, C.R. Snyder, & John M. Belmont, The Relationship of Children’s Hope to Pediatric Asthma Treatment Adherence. 2 J. of Positive Psychol., 176-84 (2007).

    9 Larry Richard, Herding Cats: The Lawyer Personality Revealed, 7 LAWPRO Mag. 2-5 (2008).

    10 For a summary of the studies supporting this section, see Rand & Cheavens, supra note 6, at 330.

    11 Lopez, supra note 2, at 24-25.

    12 Id. at 162. To measure hope, see the Adult Hope Scale in this book.

News & Pubs Search

Format: MM/DD/YYYY