Lawyers receive a lot of training in how to stay out of balance between their professional and personal lives.
Law school demands a huge time commitment and a large portion of one's life. Life as a young solo or an associate is worse; billing requirements, competition and the new lawyer learning curve make us virtually live through our work. It's easy to forget that there is another side of life, the personal side.
Balance is about comparing the needs and wants of our professional life and our personal and family life and making decisions as to how to juggle competing interests. It's easy to give all to your career, but I know a number of attorneys near the end of their careers who would now give anything to have spent more time with their children or to have had some adventures along the way instead of constantly striving for recognition, status and money. It's up to each of us individually to determine how we want to live our lives and what we want to make of our careers. There are, however, two guideposts to help us with these tough choices: our values and a life plan.
Values are what are important to us. Not what we should value, rather what we truly care about. They don't have to be altruistic and should clearly reflect what we care about, want to do more of and believe in. If you value sports and adventure, a sixty-hour a week legal job probably isn't a good fit. However, if money is your prime value at this point in your life and the sixty-hour a week job pays great, perhaps that job fits your values. There is no such thing as a right or wrong value, the important thing is to discover the most important values to you and then live your life and design your legal career to honor and reflect them. There are many exercises designed to help you uncover your values and I have some I can share with you if you like. Take some time and uncover your values, they will be an invaluable guide.
Do you know what you want to accomplish in life? What you want to do and when you want to do it? If you don't know where you are going, you won't get there – so where are you going? A life plan is a map of the future and most of us don't have the map. To develop a life plan requires some work. Here are a few exercises to get you started:
- Imagine your life if you could have anything you wanted. What would that be like?
- What would you do with your life if money were no object?
- Imagine your life 5, 10, 20, 30 years from now. What do you want to be doing at each of those times?
- Imagine you could somehow be transported to the future and could talk to your future self. What advice would he give you as to how to live your life, what's important, what he is most proud of accomplishing…?
- Write your own obituary. How would you want to be remembered?
These exercises should help you envision the life you want. The next step is to set out the steps to get to that ideal life. Of course we need to be practical, but first we need to know what we really want. After you are clear on that, then you can, within reason, craft a life plan to get as close to that ideal life as possible. A plan isn't a plan if it isn't in writing, so write it down. Have fun!
With a clear understanding of your values and a life plan in hand you are well equipped to make the hard choices necessary to balance your personal and professional life. It's a continuing challenge, but the guideposts make it much easier.
Also, the Lawyer's Life assessment has many questions that relate to balance. Take the test and see how you score and where you can improve.
How We Can Help
Lack of balance has wrecked many a lawyer's marriage and can even wreck successful careers. Too much indulgence in work, just as in any activity, isn't healthy. It isn't healthy for the lawyer, it can be devastating to his family and, in the long run, it isn't healthy for the law firm. We are individuals first and lawyers second. Coaching for lawyers can help you keep that perspective. It is understood that the work must get done and the hours must be billed, however, by examining your life as a whole, helping you become clear on your values and what you want out the rest of your life, we can together craft a life plan that provides for the best overall professional and personal life balance.