Zero-Sum Games In Law And Life

Zero-Sum photo A zero-sum game occurs when one player’s gain is another player’s loss. Law often involves a perceived winner and loser. Some wins or losses are relative in that a better or worse outcome was expected than actually occurred. In law, compromise is often achieved in settlements to mitigate a win or loss for one or both sides. This still involves a relative win or loss depending on a case analysis.

In professional life, it occurs to me that a zero-sum game is prevalent for some. That is, one part of self or life is given up for gain in another area. For example, time is given up in order to bill hours, which obviously draws down the hours that can be pursued in other endeavors. In a more extreme example, perhaps your life purpose is given up for the sake of money made in your career.   In existential terms, this would be a tragic outcome. In fact, I would posit this would bring about a crisis of the soul and at the very least a depression or other health crisis.

Fracturing parts of yourself for the sake of professional demands no doubt has a short term and likely long-term effect on your health and well-being. Even compromise in one area for the sake of another can have adverse effects. The only way to really know where you stand in this is to do clear values assessment.

Here are some steps you can take toward determining your values and seeking alignment in your professional life:

  1. On a sheet of paper write down all the things you value most highly in your personal life. Rank them by order of what is most valuable with a number by each thing you wrote down. Place these in the left column of your paper.
  2. Next do the same exercise as that outlined in #1, except this time write what you value most about your practice of law as it currently is for you. Put that in the right column.
  3. Now do an alignment/conflict check. In regard to your top 10 values in each column check to see which values clearly conflict or are inconsistent when analyzing the right and left columns.
  4. If you find more than 2-3 areas of complete conflict/contradiction, it is time you consider this is a conflict of interests/values in regard to your own life. In fact, one area of drastic conflict (such as the example above of trading life purpose for money making in law) would indicate a dichotomy that should be considered a serious conflict of interest/values.

In law we know that conflict checks are essential to maintain our ethical and legal duties to our former and current clients. In life I think the ‘conflict check’ is as important in that it helps us to ascertain whether in fact we are being ‘true’ to ourselves and our stated values.   This of course can involve a lot of soul searching, and only you know the answer for yourself. A qualified coach can help you undertake such an analysis and may be crucial to working through perspectives, goals, and strategies to minimize the conflict you may perceive in your life. Perhaps to date those conflicts have not even been clearly known by you or articulated in a clear way.

Pam Olsen is a practicing attorney, M.S. Mental Health Counseling and ICF Certified Coach. Contact to schedule a values assessment/alignment session or for other coaching or consulting regarding your professional and personal satisfaction.