Achieving work/life balance is a popular topic discussed in numerous articles and blog posts. In reality, however, it seems to be an unattainable goal especially in the legal profession where it has become an expectation (like in our world as a whole), that lawyers are available 24/7 to handle whatever issues may arise. In fact, a recent Martindale-Avvo survey on attorney compensation confirms this proposition with solid evidence. Attorneys have very few hours outside of work to do the things they want to do in their personal lives, including spending time with family, which they rank as the number one thing they like to do outside of work. (Attorney Compensation Survey 2019). This lack of free time for lawyers can lead to job dissatisfaction and ultimately, complete burnout.
Work/Life Balance Is Attainable
Despite this, lawyers state that working with clients gives them the most satisfaction in their careers, and most attorneys are satisfied with their chosen profession (see survey)… This makes sense since many of us chose the legal profession to help others. And as I have written in past posts, it is critical to give our clients the appreciation they deserve. After all, they trust us to help them when they are most vulnerable, and we need to do our very best to provide them with the attention that they require to help them resolve whatever legal problem or issue they may have.
Nonetheless, like the flight attendant advises when we are on a plane, if we do not place our own oxygen mask on first, we cannot help others in need. Lawyers too must take time to bring some balance into their lives even though achieving perfect equilibrium on a daily basis may not always be possible. A more realistic goal is to look at work/life balance on a continuum. This means that every day may not be perfectly balanced between work and life outside of work, but as a whole, there is sufficient time to do the work we love and treat our clients with the professionalism and respect that they need while maintaining a productive and interesting life outside of work hours.
Steps Towards Making The Shift
To accomplish this many of us need to make a conscious effort to do the things that we know are important, but that sometimes are neglected in favor of doing more work. For example, getting home at a decent hour to have a family meal or attend a school game or sporting event. Eating properly and getting enough exercise and sleep. Taking a vacation or a weekend off from work. Disciplining ourselves to disconnect from our electronic device at a certain time each evening and/or on weekends. While to some lawyers these simple activities may seem frivolous or show a lack of dedication, in fact, stepping away from work occasionally and taking care of our health, actually will make us better, more patient, and more rational thinking advisors in the long run. It will also allow us to have greater focus and devotion to our work when we are doing it. If we don’t take breaks or take care of ourselves properly, much of our work time is spent feeling regret for the personal lives we lack and feeling guilty for the choices we are making. We also may feel exhausted and unwell from lack of sleep, exercise and proper nutrition.
Having It All
So while it is true that we live in a 24/7 world where it seems sometimes that work and life are choices that need to be made, this is not the case. We can have both a successful career and a successful life outside of work as long as we keep our priorities straight and do not neglect one for the other. It is inevitable that sometimes work will outweigh the time we have to devote to our personal life and vice versa. However, as long as our dedication to each achieves parity over time, we can confidently say that we have achieved a work/life balance.