A Lawyer’s Whole Life
In the increasingly demanding world lawyers face; many lawyers desire to achieve professional success, a fulfilling life, and true happiness. However, achieving both their personal and professional goals sometimes proves to be elusive.
Most lawyers live hectic and stress-filled lives. They experience a great deal of pressure from the billable hour requirement and client/firm demands. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success is often a significant challenge.
You have made a major investment in your legal career. You've earned the right to both career success and a happy personal life. Planning regular vacations each year can help you achieve personal and professional success and well-being.
In the pressured legal world; becoming stress resilient is an essential component of happiness for lawyers. Resilience is the ability to persevere and adapt when overcoming obstacles. It is the key to happiness and success at work and in life. The secret to the emotional intelligence competency of resilience is accurate thinking. It is important to challenge limiting beliefs and negative thinking. Managing stress allows you to excel in the workplace while maintaining a well-balanced, healthy lifestyle. Shifting your mindset to the value of taking regular vacations can help you be more productive.
The legal profession is currently experiencing increasing numbers of lawyers who are dissatisfied with their careers and abandoning the practice of law for less stressful career alternatives. Contributing factors include anxiety, depression, relationship issues, and questions relating to personal values and the meaning of life.
Unmanaged stress increases anxiety, depression, anger, substance abuse, and feelings of unhappiness- all of which decrease quality of life and workplace productivity. In fact, a study done at John Hopkins University found that out of 104 occupational groups, lawyers were the most likely to suffer from depression- more than three times more likely than average. High levels of stress are reported by almost 3/4 of lawyers and resulting in damage to the physical health or emotional well-being of 1/3 of these attorneys.
Increasing billable hour requirements time pressures are frequently cited as the reason for the high rates of lawyer dissatisfaction. Attorneys complain of little time for themselves or their families. In contrast, happy people are less self-focused, less hostile, more loving, forgiving, trusting, energetic, decisive, enthusiastic, creative, sociable and helpful.
Stress is a natural response within all of us and it can serve as a valuable source of increased energy and creativity. When coupled with an optimistic attitude, positive or eustress can help you accomplish the things in life that are most important. However, knowing how to manage unwanted stress and relax is essential to your enjoyment of life. Remember that you are in charge of your own physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. You can choose to have regular vacations to help become happy, healthy, and relaxed.
Life Balance and Mindfulness
Poet David Whyte writes eloquently about staying conscious of what matters most.
"We have patience for everything but what is most important to us. We look at the life of our own most central imaginings and see it beckon. For the most part, we have not the courage to follow it, but we do not have the courage to leave it. We turn our face for a moment and tell ourselves we will be sure to get back to it. When we look again, ten years have passed and we wonder what in God's name happened to us.
We sabotage our creative possibilities because the world revealed by the imagination may not fit well with the life we have taken so much trouble to construct over the years. Faced with the pain of that distance, the distance between desire and reality, we turn just for a moment, and quickly busy ourselves. But then we must live with the consequences of turning away." – David Whyte
Life in the 21st century law firm has become more business-minded focusing on the bottom line. This change in focus makes it difficult for lawyers working in a firm to have time for relationships and other meaningful pursuits.
Balance is about integrating the needs and wants of our personal and work lives. A number of attorneys I have coached have expressed the desire to spend more time with their families or other priorities than constantly striving for recognition, status, and money. Balancing your personal and professional life requires making different decisions based on clear values and a life plan.
Vacation and Recharge Your Batteries
Taking a vacation can help you better manage stress and recharge your batteries. Many lawyers are extremely competitive and driven individuals. In my work coaching lawyers, they think they can work non-stop often sleep-deprived without any negative consequences. Nothing could be farther from the truth. In my opinion, lawyers need vacations as much if not more than other professions because of the unrelenting stress and pressure. Unfortunately, lawyers frequently resist going on vacation because of their work-driven and highly competitive mindset.
Even if it just means taking Friday and/or Monday off, take a brief vacation. Go away for a long weekend. Staying away from the office, email and shutting off your smart phone for a few days will help restore your energy and increase focus and clarity. Taking a break can help clear your mind, but taking even a short vacation will help you relax, and help you look at cases with a new perspective and less stress.
How can you maintain your productivity and your edge as an enlightened lawyer? Go on a vacation. Taking a break to rest and restore your energy and encouraging those you supervise to do the same can be extremely helpful to your law practice.
I’ve coached numerous lawyers who tell me they don’t have time to take vacations because of demands from clients or high billable-hour requirements. Many lawyers fear that if they do take time off, they’ll be viewed as less motivated and focused than their colleagues or competition. Far too often, the result of not taking time off from work is seen in a high rate of burnout and depression among lawyers. Recent research supports the view that retention, productivity and career satisfaction are positively affected when lawyers plan vacation time.
The Case for Vacations
Vacation is a time for rest and renewal and to have some freedom from work. However, laptops, iPads, smart phones, and other remote tools allow lawyers to have easy access to the office. We live and work in a culture of distractibility. Creating time away could be the healthiest step lawyers could take.
Morale, motivation, productivity, health, energy and creativity are given a boost by taking vacations. Most of my lawyer clients report feeling rejuvenated and reconnected with family and friends after a vacation, and thinking more positive about work upon returning.
We live in a work-obsessed culture where we live to work. It is important for leadership at law firms to create a positive environment where taking time off is recognized and encouraged. as a way to promote a healthier and more productive workplace.
Law offices can encourage lawyers to take needed vacations to improve the quality of their lives and be more focused and energetic.
• Partners or supervisors can be role models, taking regular vacations and supporting others to do the same. When lawyers time off, provide support and advance preparation so vacations are not interrupted.
• Inform your clients of scheduled vacations and manage their expectations around the importance of vacation time. Do not call individuals on vacation, except in a real emergency.
• Create an enlightened and innovative workplace culture where work working on vacation is not expected, acceptable, or considered a best practice.
• Develop firm core values or principles that do not encourage participation in conference calls, returning voice mails or e-mails during a lawyer’s vacation.
• Engage in positive coaching conversations around the virtue of vacations.
Vacationing legal professional might consider establishing the following habits:
• Refrain from calling the office to discuss business matters or check voice mail or e-mail. You are either on vacation or you’re at work; you shouldn’t try to be in two places at one time.
• Trust your collaborative colleagues to pick-up on your behalf.
• Let go of the guilt over taking time off. Create a mindset that respects your personal life as much as your professional life.
Time-Off Promotes Business and Life Success
The importance of planning vacation time as it relates to the success of a legal practice cannot be underestimated. Lawyers are unlikely to maintain a high level of energy, engagement, creativity and productivity without a real break from their work, regardless of how much they love their work. Enjoying both your work and personal life can help create happy lawyers who are fulfilled, healthy and productive.
About Dr. Maynard Brusman
Dr. Brusman lives in Marin County, California and is a consulting psychologist and executive coach with a practice in the San Francisco Financial District. He specializes in working with attorneys and law firms. He consults with law firms on selecting, retaining, and coaching top talent and business development. He facilitates law firm retreats. As an Executive/Career Coach he has helped numerous attorneys revitalize their careers, change their mindset about marketing, and develop thriving legal practices.