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Is Lawyer Work Life Balance a Myth?

Lawyer work life balance? What is that?

This expression assumes that we are either at work or living life.

Isn’t work part of life? And don’t we live while at work? 

Defining lawyer work balance is a false dichotomy and suggests a zero-sum game: You are either working, or you are living.

As human beings, we are about a whole lot more than either work or life.

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The point is that all of us have numerous different areas of our lives to focus upon. To be human, and a human that happens to be a lawyer, we have a lot in our lives.

Here are some of the boxes we can tick off to create a fulfilling life:

 ✅Our profession (yep, time spent at our job)

 ✅Our families

 ✅Our pets

 ✅Our spousal relationship (if we have one)

 ✅Our personal time (pleasure) 

 ✅Our physical exercise 

 ✅Our nutrition

 ✅Our intellectual pursuits 

 ✅Our sleep 

 ✅Our financial health

 ✅Our emotional pursuits (connecting with others, friendships)

 ✅Our spiritual pursuits (what that means for you)

If we are thinking about lawyer work life balance, does it mean that if we are working, we then have to fit everything else into our off time? Just thinking about it makes me feel exhausted and disheartened. Transparently, that is the wrong way to approach it. There is no such dichotomy or either/or scenario.

Video: why work life balance is so difficult for divorce lawyers.

There is no such thing as work life balance

If you are like me, you probably have to admit that you spend more waking hours “on the job” than any other activity in your life, but this does not mean that you have to buy into the lawyer work life balance myth, that is, that you are either working, or doing everything else, that is “living.” 

If you are a practicing lawyer, work is part of your life. However, importantly, just because you are at work does not mean that the rest of what is important to live a fulfilling life is not happening. What do I mean? 

Well, if I think about a typical “day at the office,” this is what I experience: 

  • I continuously connect with my team and clients when I am working. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure from my “professional” relationships. Some people believe in keeping their office relationships, including clients, at a distance. If we do that, we do our emotional selves a huge disservice.
  • Of course, working includes me earning my living, which relates to my financial health. 
  • Because it is healthier and easier on the finances, I pack myself a nice nutritious lunch each day. 
  • I spend time with my dog because I have a dog-friendly office (most days my dog, Inu, comes to work with me). I am a dog lover to the nth degree. Maybe pets are not your thing, but because dogs are my thing, I have created an office environment where my dog can join me. 
  • I not only enjoy the people I work with, but I also enjoy the physical space of my office environment. I experience great pleasure when I come to the office. If that is not personal, I don’t know what is. 
  • As for physical exercise, I almost always stop on the way to the office and go for a walk in the woods with my dog. This is a personal time for me and very pleasurable. I am also exercising. I tag the walk onto the beginning, end, and even sometimes middle of my work day. Steve Jobs used to do walking/talking meetings all the time. It is how he preferred to do business with people. My walks are often a spiritual experience for me, also. I believe you cannot go for a walk in the woods and not become a better person than when you started.
  • As for family, believe it or not, I have had my daughter and stepdaughters work in my law office from time to time. As I write this, over the past seven years and counting, I have had “family” working at the office in at least some capacity throughout. So, believe it or not, I am seeing “family” while at the office. 
  • Spiritually? You may ask how spirituality could fit into a divorce lawyer's work day. Well, my friend, it does. Over the years, I have transformed how I see my career/work from doing a job to a calling. I see myself as being in service to families that are changing. I am their guide to get them to a final resolution or agreement. There is a “greater” good much more extensive than me earning my living. 
  • As for intellectually, I often listen to thought-provoking podcasts such as my current favourite, Tim Ferriss’ or audiobooks. I listen to these while walking or driving on my 15-minute commute to and from work.

So, of that list of boxes to tick off that make us human, only one of them (spousal relationship - because I don’t have a spouse at the moment) is not served or experienced during my typical work day.

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That seems better than looking at the false dichotomy of lawyer work life balance, doesn’t it?

When you move away from the false dichotomy of lawyer work life balance and cluster the items of what makes you a human, you can “see” your life differently and more complete as a whole. 

Maybe your day job may not offer you the same flexibility as mine.

The question to ask yourself is:

What can you incorporate into your work day to make your work life more whole and complete?

For Lawyer Work Life Balance do as Tiffaney did:

Not all law offices are the same. 

I am reminded of my former paralegal, Tiffaney. She was a master at lawyer work life balance in that she always made great efforts to enjoy all aspects of her work, her work environment, and her relationships with her colleagues and clients. 

After Tiffaney moved on from family law and chose to work in a different legal area, she was jolted when joining a new law office. Although she was pleased about this new area of law, she was not initially pleased with her new work environment.

Although the offices were nicely appointed, there was a problem with the lack of a social atmosphere.

She noted that there were few personal conversations, most lawyers always had closed doors, and there was an overall chilly personal atmosphere. The lawyers and staff rarely chatted or joked. They certainly never socialized with each other. 

Tiffaney was not prepared to spend 40+ hours of her life each week at “work” while missing out on deeply held values that made her life fulfilling. Those values included human connection, having fun, and enjoying herself.

Just because she was at work, it did not mean that she had to forgo experiencing the values she found so important to her. 

Tiffany made it her mission to create an office environment where she experienced her values daily.

How did she do it?

She started with each morning. Each morning she came in and did an office “round” where she said good morning to everyone. If a door were closed, she would knock and open it and say good morning. Lawyers finally stopped having their doors shut when they were not in client meetings. Then Tiffaney started bringing in baked treats once a week and shared them with the team. Pretty soon, people were coming into the office kitchen, getting the treats, and chatting with one another.

She then convinced the lawyers to include social gatherings on their firm-wide calendar. 

It is now several years later, and Tiffaney’s efforts have paid off. Her work day is spent in a cheerful, vibrant law office where lawyers and support staff get along and enjoy one another. They also continue to do great work for clients. Everyone at that law office has benefitted from Tiffaney’s mission.

Many more of everyone’s boxes are ticked off making their lives more fulfilling while ‘at the office'.

So much for lawyer work life balance.

Lawyer Work Life Balance from Home: 

You don’t want to spend every day at the office do you? So, let’s look at the days when you are not “at the office.” What about lawyer work life balance from home? 

Just like when you are “at the office,” you do not have to pack in all “life” has to offer when at home. Of course not. 

As with the office, successful lawyers living fulfilling lives cluster activities around their values and what makes them complete as human beings. 

Here are some activities I cluster together when I am not at the office that help me tick off the boxes, thus creating my fulfilling life. What creates your fulfilling life will be different:

  1. I go on a weekly morning hike/walk with my daughter. As I write this, my daughter is now a young adult and a university student. She still lives at home, but with her part-time job, school, and friends, I rarely see her. So, we have a weekly date. When we hike, we have nothing to do but chat with each other. We have our connection, get exercise, and walk the dog simultaneously. 
  2. For me, community is essential. Twice per year, I invite my neighbours to an open house at my house. For this task, I tick off my exercise box, because I walk all over giving out the invites (which takes an hour or so). I walk my dog at the same time. Mostly, my friend comes over and we “craft” together, making the invitations. I also get to connect with my friend when doing so. When the event happens, it is an opportunity to connect with my neighbours. So many boxes ticked!
  3. I get a lot of pleasure from cooking. It fills me up (haha, I had to say it). One of my housemates (I have roommates by choice) and I take turns cooking for each other. We spend time together, cleaning up afterward. It makes for a nice connection and healthy eating. It ticks off the boxes of health and emotional connection and is easy on the finances. All of those are important for a fulfilling and successful life as a lawyer. 
  4. If I am cooking by myself or tidying up the house, I listen to a podcast or an audiobook, thus giving me more things to think about and helping me grow intellectually. I also find listening to podcasts and audiobooks immensely pleasurable. 
  5. Because I love love love early mornings and easing into my day, I go to bed early. I am up almost always at 5 am, 6 am at the latest. I have a dedicated spiritual and manifestation practice that I do each day. The practice I do, which changes often, is always, and I always mean, very pleasurable. It is my personal, emotional, and spiritual time. Oh, and yes, my dog is always with me, snoozing under the duvet. 
  6. Movie night. I love to laugh, and watching action adventure comedies is my favourite genre. That is why whenever a new one comes out and I hear about it, I get one of my favourite close girlfriends to come over. We cook food and watch a movie together. It is entertainment that is easy on the finances, I get to connect with one of my favourite people, and I get to have fun.

What about you?
Think about the activities you can do to fulfill your life.

Here are some other activities you can cluster for your fulfilling life while debunking the lawyer work life balance myth:

  1. You might like to go out and eat great food. Do so with your friends, family or your significant other. If you can walk to the restaurant location, thus get in your exercise.  Think of all the boxes you can tick off for just one night out. 
  2. Movie night?! Laughing is good medicine. Can you gather up some friends and cook together before the show? Or maybe you want to be intellectually stimulated by watching a great documentary. 
  3. I know of a “drinking club with a running problem.” This is a group of serious long-distance runners who also love to socialize. On weekends they run from one pub to another, thus getting in their socializing, having a lot of fun, and logging their miles.
  4. If you are a church or other organization member, you might utilize that membership as a source of leads for your law practice. Your church may satisfy a spiritual component and be something you enjoy, thus providing you with satisfying emotional and personal benefits. Using it as a lead source for your law practice serves your work purpose. Take it even further if you consider walking or riding your bicycle to services if it is close enough. 

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