How One Attorney Went from Law Firm Partner to Helping Lawyers Live Better Lives

A profile on Kate Mayer Mangan


How will an attorney's life improve when they change their way of thinking and acting? That’s the question Kate Mayer Mangan asked herself and is now asking many other lawyers. Kate is a coach and consultant at Donocle, a company that helps lawyers work at their highest potential. Before founding Donocle, she had a successful career as a lawyer, practice as a partner, associate and professor. Here's a look at Kate, her work as an attorney and why she's so engaged with helping lawyers live better lives.

1. Why did you decide to go to law school and become a lawyer?

I always loved writing and solving problems. Law seemed to offer the perfect blend of language and helping people: I wanted to be able to use language and ideas to solve problems. I also have a competitive streak and thought I would enjoy the competition that is inherent in so much of litigation and law. 

2. Why did you specialize in appellate work? What did you like about the work? 

In many ways, appellate work found me. I was lucky because the very first case I ever touched was a U.S. Supreme Court case. I was a summer research assistant for a professor in law school. My second day on the job, he told me that we were scrapping the research projects to work on a Supreme Court brief. I spent many happy hours researching, reviewing drafts, dissecting trial court records, and listening in on strategy sessions. It was exciting, challenging, and fascinating. After law school, I clerked for on the 9th Circuit, which solidified my love of the appellate process.

I liked handling appeals because, at that stage, you are often working at the edges of the law, dealing with issues that haven’t been clearly decided. There is room to be creative and sometimes to argue for what should be rather than what always has been. In appeals, there is a heavy emphasis on the written word, and I’ve always loved writing. Appellate oral arguments were probably my single favorite part of practicing law. They require lawyers to be so prepared and so focused because there are only a few minutes to address very complex issues.

For me, appellate arguments were a ton of fun because they required so much focus, flexibility, and preparation.

3. What made you go from being a partner in a law firm to starting your own business? 

I became increasingly interested in the problems of lawyers. Throughout my career, I’ve spoken with attorneys about the challenges they face, and there are many. Law is, of course, a demanding career, but I’m not convinced that it needs to take the toll on lawyers that it currently does. It’s not inevitable that we have depression rates about 4 times greater than the average population or that being an associate is the least happy job in America. I’ve seen so many lawyers who don’t ever practice at their full potential, and I don’t think it needs to be that way.

The more I learned about the problems facing many attorneys and the more I learned about the science of performance and success, the more I saw a void that I couldn’t ignore. Other disciplines, like psychology and neuroscience, have so much to offer lawyers that could improve their performance and the quality of their lives. Once I began talking and writing about ways we could work and live better, opportunities started arising and I couldn’t ignore them.

4. Tell me about Donocle. What is your goal with your business and what services do you offer?

Donocle is a consulting and education company. We work with lawyers, their employers, and their clients to help lawyers work at their highest potential. Our approach blends science—particularly psychology and neuroscience, since lawyers depend so heavily on their brains—with what a deep knowledge of what it really means to be a lawyer. We teach people practical, useful ways to work more wisely. Our core programming includes teaching people how to get more done each day with less fatigue and more creativity, how to perform under pressure, and how to optimize their brains.

We also teach people about mindfulness, which is one of the most promising ways to reduce stress and improve performance.

Our core services are workshops, presentations, and keynotes. We talk about how to work more wisely based on what science knows. We also offer consulting on the systems and policies that affect humans and culture: compensation systems, performance reviews, mentoring programs, professional development programs, women’s and diversity initiatives.

5. Why should attorneys consider mindfulness and the coaching services you offer?

Attorneys should consider our programming if they want to get more done at higher quality and get it done with less exhaustion and more happiness. People who want to learn how to improve their focus, their memory, their creativity, and their ability to learn new things—all of which are critical to being a good lawyer—can benefit. Essentially, anyone who wants to take their performance up a level and their stress down a level should call us.

People’s lives improve when they learn and implement what we teach because they have more energy, more focus and creativity, and better communication skills. All of these capacities help them work more sustainably and effectively. People often tell us that they also see improvements in their private lives: their communication skills improve, which improves their relationships, they feel calmer and better able to make good choices in all areas of their lives. People also say that they feel happier and more optimistic!

6. What advice do you wish someone had given you as a law student or young lawyer?

Be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. Lawyers tend to be tough people. We can push ourselves through a lot of unpleasant tasks, many of which are necessary to do the job. But, at some point, there’s only so much you can do to improve a weakness. People will do better and be happier if they can use their strengths more and rely on their weaknesses less.

7. What advice do you give to attorneys and people starting their legal career?

I think it’s really important for attorneys to stay connected to their own goals and aspirations. It’s very easy to have the path laid out for you and to simply follow it. Get good grades, get the best job you can, work really hard and make partner, get the biggest clients, etc. That may be the exact path you want to follow, or it may not be. People need to take a step back every once in a while and make sure that they are pursuing a career that is consistent with their own dreams, not anybody else’s.