Achieving a healthy work-life balance is a common struggle for many professionals, and lawyers are no exception. In the legal field, the demands of building a successful practice can often overshadow personal and family commitments.
It is, however, entirely possible for lawyers to strike a balance between their careers and family life.
This article provides strategies and insights for lawyers seeking to navigate the challenging task of balancing work and family responsibilities. By implementing mindful scheduling, recognizing the signs of burnout, and setting boundaries, lawyers can create a fulfilling and well-rounded life that encompasses both professional success and quality time with loved ones.
This article will provide strategies for staying diligent, scheduling work obligations mindfully, and still living a balanced life.
In law school, you might have heard that work-life balance simply isn’t possible in our field.
That isn’t true. While lawyer wellness and mental health aren’t discussed as often as they ought to be, these are serious issues—and professionals can and should set boundaries.
In fact, refusing to do so can have dire consequences, as shown in ALM’s 2020 Mental Health and Substance Abuse Survey. More than 31% of the 3,800 survey respondents said they felt depressed, while 64% expressed concern they might have anxiety. Another report found lawyers typically work 140 unplanned hours each year and the vast majority of legal professionals have a hard time leaving work at the office.
Clearly, the industry needs to pivot. Many firms and legal departments are already making great strides. And while daily demands may vary depending on your practice area, firm culture, and family life, you can absolutely advocate for your needs and find balance.
For you, maybe work-life balance means turning off your phone at 7 p.m. Maybe it means scheduling meetings around your kids’ activities, or giving your email a much-needed break on Sundays. Balance means different things to different people, but that’s the beauty of it. We get to define it ourselves.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as “a syndrome…resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Signs and symptoms typically include feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from work, and job-related cynicism. Though most lawyers are hardworking and intelligent, no one is immune to these difficulties. In our industry, too, talented professionals are struggling with burnout each day.
The first step in dealing with it is to recognize the signs. These may include:
Does this sound like you? If so, just know that burnout doesn’t have to be your future.
The first step in improving work-life balance as a lawyer is to evaluate what isn’t working in your life currently, followed by what you’d like to change - along with what’s keeping you from getting there. With these insights, you can put together a plan.
Often, this is a matter of mindful scheduling.
Work-life balance is best achieved by planning your tasks around when you do your best work. And by building a “better” schedule, we mean structuring your workday around your needs. If your schedule isn’t serving you, evaluate it the same way you would a case file. Determine what is causing you the most stress, and make adjustments accordingly.
An intentional start and end time—with planned breaks in between—is key. With that, you’ll want to consider when you’re most productive. Perhaps you thrive keeping traditional nine-to-five hours, or maybe you love an early start (or, conversely, burning the midnight oil).
Once you identify your preferences, talk to your employer and figure out how you can best serve your clients with your scheduling needs in mind. It all boils down to being intentional and keeping your work and home life as separate as possible. Those boundaries will keep you refreshed, productive, and more satisfied—personally and professionally.
Do you need help achieving work-life balance? My name is Stacy Cowan, and as the founder of the Calgary-based Urban Legal Recruitment, I match partners, associates, and in-house legal counsel with the firms and companies best suited to their needs and qualifications.
Choosing which firm to apply your hard-earned skills is no simple task. It totally varies from person to person, and the pros and cons of different size firms are somewhat complex.
So, why not connect with me to take those next steps? I can help lawyers like you navigate a range of firms looking for top talent and connect you with your next role. We’ll make sure you can carve out the work-life balance you need to truly thrive.