When we first were thinking about a career in law, we had some pretty great ideas about what that it was going to be.
Our careers promise to be rewarding, both financially and intellectually. We think it is likely that we will work long hours, but the excitement of it all surpasses any concerns about the ongoing quality of life.
Recently, I attended my 20-year law school reunion. After looking around the room and talking to my old classmates, I did a very rough analysis of what I saw in terms of what became of them based upon the career choices they have made. When we thought about a career in law, most of us chose to go into private practice, work for the government, or become academics. Obviously my observations are not scientific in any way, however, the two friends (also lawyers in private practice) that I attended the reunion with had the same impression. This is what we observed:
1. Those who became academics look awesome. They appear to have a great life. If I was to make a total generalisation, I would say they have not aged a bit. They appear refreshed and relaxed.
2. Those who chose to be in-house counsel or went to government appear also to be happy and energized. They look like life is serving them well. They get lots of holidays, have pensions accumulating and appear to have little stress.
And then there was the rest of us.
3. Those who entered the world of private practice appear to work long hours and have very little control over what they are doing in terms of their daily lives. Although some appeared to be earning great incomes, these lawyers were the most likely in the room to have let their health go, their fitness go, and appear to be the most bedraggled. Some seriously looked awful.
I am not saying that being in private practice causes us to age and look terrible. I am saying, however, that being in private practice, due to the nature of stress associated with it, increases the likelihood of these things. There is a lot stacked against us. That is unless we are proactive and purposeful about managing our lifestyles and our law practices. So, when thinking about a career in law and private practice, we have to make sure we avoid the obvious risks associated with private practice.
So, here I am, one of the lawyers in the room who has not only made the choice to enter private practice but chooses to continue to stay in it. Why do I continue with this choice? What do I do to ensure that my chosen profession does not suck up the well-being of my life?
When thinking about a career in law and the path I have chosen, I still do love private practice despite its stresses. I get to create my business every day. I (theoretically) chose my work hours. I am the boss of my own legal practice. I work with awesome people that I choose. I get to practice in an area of law that I feel strongly about. I feel that by the work I do I contribute in a good way to families in my community.
Now I know that in order to ensure that this does not happen again (or happen in the first place for others), that I have to be very purposeful about the lifestyle I lead. That purpose includes the following:
1. Focusing on being in service to my clients and others each day;
2. Designing my law practice using step-by-step processes and checklists; and
3. Making appointments for what is important in life (this includes the appointment to go to the gym, that is in my calendar and not something I blow off).
When we think about a career in law, we have to focus on the very way in which we design our lifestyles and law practices. It is the only way.
By Val Hemminger, a divorce lawyer, owner of Hemminger Law Group Westshore Law Corporation
Val has created this website to share with her colleagues. She is not suggesting, by any means, that she is the best divorce lawyer out there. She is, however, suggesting that she is the best divorce lawyer that she herself can be. Feel free to share anything you find useful.