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How Attorneys Can Find Balance Between Work and Life

How Attorneys Can Find Balance Between Work and Life on bossreporting.com

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.

Synergy

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:

Balancing checks

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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Are You a Fast Food Franchise? Managing Client Expectations on Fees and Pricing

Are You a Fast Food Franchise? Managing Client Expectations on Fees and Pricing on bossreporting.com

They don’t know what they don’t know. Maybe they just need to learn how lawyers charge for their services—and why.

Is there ever just a single way to do something? It may seem that way if it’s the way things have been done since anybody can remember, but seldom are you required to keep on doing it in the same fashion.

This is particularly true if you discover that it’s just not in the best interest of your customers. As long as anybody can remember, law firms have billed clients using the format of the billable hour. There was no a la carte ordering possible. It was like going to a fast food franchise. Sorry, no substitutions allowed. You can have whatever you want, as long as it’s up on the menu board. That works fine for a burger and fry combo with a large soda, but not so well for the often-unpredictable nature of legal proceedings.

Is it a cost, or an investment?

We live in the age of the empowered consumer. While they don’t necessarily expect to tell you how to run your business, today’s clients will press you for an explanation on why your fees are structured the way they are. Take the concept of the billable hour.

How is it possible for them to understand and appreciate the cost of services if they’re focused on the amount of time you’re putting in for them rather than the value you’re creating? What’s more, the rest of the world has become far more transparent, offering customer-centric pricing.

Is it less expensive pricing? Are businesses sacrificing income in order to acquire and retain customers? The answer is a resounding no. All these businesses have done is to set and manage their customers’ expectations.

And that’s important for a law firm. Unless you’re someone who has a constant or ongoing need for legal services, an understanding of how lawyers charge for their services—and why—is a totally foreign concept.

All a new client might truly know is that they should have the right to easily calculate how much this is going to cost them.

The default mode

Like any professional, we have a tendency to immediately launch into doing what we are trained to provide for clients when they seek us out for our services. In doing so, we often skip a crucial aspect that sets the stage of what a client should expect from us.

Do they know?

Are they fully aware of what you will provide for their investment in your firm’s services? You know your full range and capacity. They, however, do not. And often, the only certainty they have is the established billable hour price they will contract to pay.

This sets up a lopsided dynamic. Both you and your client need an atmosphere of complete transparency—but what you may have instead is an unspoken distrust. They might show a tendency to be unwilling to interact with you because as far as they know, every minute is going toward that (not fully understood) billable hour.

There’s a simple solution, and it can go a long way toward establishing your firm’s value proposition. Manage their expectations. Set their mind at ease by taking a zero-based assumption approach. It’s human nature to question and dispute what we don’t know. Often, though, it’s simply because no one took the time to explain it to us.

Your clients may not necessarily be looking for ways to dictate how your firm charges them for services. They could simply be searching for clarification and understanding.