How Attorneys Can Find Balance Between Work and Life
Your perspective changes when you focus on managing your activities, rather than attempting to manage time.
It’s a myth. If you’re an attorney, there’s no such thing as work-life balance. That’s how it might seem from the inside—especially if you’re just starting out practicing law.
Is it really even possible to have a successful career as a lawyer while also enjoying a satisfying personal life? It is. And while it might be easier to attain if you’re further along in your career than when you’re just getting started, there are simple and attainable things you can do to find that balance.
It’s likely we don’t think work-life balance is possible because we don’t quite understand the concept, to begin with. Simply put, it’s a synergy between your career and the other commitments you make in your life. These would include your family and friends, as well as your health and fitness and your social activities.
When we think of balance, we may envision equal parts. That 50/50 partition is something to shoot for, but you might find you’re just as happy with a 60/40 split, too. This is especially true for lawyers, who do spend more time on the job than those in other careers.
This balance makes the assumption that you have enough time in your day to accomplish your work-related tasks, and then participate in the activities representing your other commitments. When this doesn’t happen, we often chide ourselves. We’re not able to manage our time, we say.
It’s impossible to manage time. We all have all the time there is. More cannot be made. Truly, the only thing you can control in this regard is what you do with your time. Your perspective changes when you focus on managing your activities, rather than attempting to manage time.
Cleaning out the closet
Here’s an analogy if you need it. Think of time as something tangible. It’s a container, and the laws of physics dictate that only a certain number of items can fit into a container.
It’s like saying you are going to manage your closet. We know what we mean is that we are going to manage what is in the closet. If we want more clothes or shoes to fit, we’re going to have to get rid of some of the stuff already in there.
If you want to bring more balance to commitments other than your job, you’ll need to make room in that closet by getting rid of a few things.
More billable hours
It’s estimated that a full-time attorney typically billed 1,300 hours early in the 1960s. Large practices today have pushed this up to 2,000 hours or more—which translates to 60-hour workweeks. This is an even higher priority for associates, who want to show they’ve got what it takes to be a partner.
There goes the whole make-room-in-the-closet analogy; might as well just light a match and throw it in. But try this before you start a bonfire:
How do you know if you’re moving toward managing your activities instead of your time? You need a few balancing checks—or stop points where you can assess and re-plot your course if you find you’re not moving toward a work-life balance. Use these activities to create balancing checks.
- Define your priorities and values. Many things you do on a daily basis as a lawyer contribute little toward what you care about. But you don’t realize this because you probably haven’t defined what matters to you. Clarify them. They determine what becomes a priority.
- Identify and isolate your distractions. The biggest obstacle to work-life balance is not the lack of time. It’s the abundance of distractions. The majority of these distractions are expectations you place on yourself to please others at work and at home. Your job as an attorney is to advocate for others. You won’t find balance in your life unless you advocate for yourself, too.
- Create weekly time blocks of personal time. You’re already used to slicing up billable hours into 15-minute increments. Book a few of these—no less than 30 minutes each—as non-reschedulable appointments. Do anything you like with the time, as long as it’s not work-related. Maybe it’s actually sorting through the clothes in your closet.
- Create boundaries around your personal commitments. If you are good at your job, there will always be more work to do. You will discover this earns you additional respect, rather than disappointment. And, for good reason. You’re displaying an important leadership quality. You can only offer stability from a firm foundation.
These balancing checks give you an opportunity to assess the direction in which you’re traveling. Work-life balance for attorneys is not a myth. It won’t be a reality, either, unless you renegotiate your relationship with time—which will reset your approach to how much of it is appropriate to give to your job vs. the rest of the commitments in your life.
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