For Lawyer Life Balance, Build a Fence

A good work and life balance is critical for a lawyer both professionally and personally. To be successful over the long run you must have the right balance between your law practice and your personal life. Too much work on the law practice at the sacrifice of  you as a person is counter productive.You probably know a lawyer so focused on his career that his life outside of his work and his wife and children have suffered. Divorce and estrangement of one’s children are often the result. We are more than lawyers, more than just what we do for a living.

For a lawyer to be successful he must be accessible to his clients at all times, right? Wrong. Yes, it is important to be available to clients, but it must be reasonable availability. In our modern environment we sometimes feel the pressure to be available 24/7. The trap is that if we are that available our clients will come to expect it. And, most of the time for most of our clients, it is just not necessary. Sure, if you are in the middle of a high stakes transaction or preparing for trial on Monday you may need to be accessible. But otherwise it can usually wait for office hours.

You need to train your clients to work on your schedule. Say you want to talk to your doctor. You call his office and his secretary tells you the doctor returns calls between 4:00 and 5:00. That usually isn’t a problem, is it? You understand that he is busy and knowing that you will get a call back at a time certain is OK,  you can plan to be available. So why can’t you do the same in your law practice? A lot of lawyers are “in court” every morning. Their clients have been trained not to expect them to be available in the mornings so they do not call then. A great deal of office work done while the lawyer is “in court.”

The same principle applies to your personal time. For adequate work-life balance there must be times when you are not at the beck and call of clients. There are a couple of ways to do this.

One way is to not give out your your home or cell phone number. If you need to, let your clients know that you will be checking your messages over the weekend.

Another way is to give clients your cell number but make a big deal about it. Let them know that you are there for them in the event of an emergency and, if there is an emergency, they can call you at that number over  the weekend or after hours. By presenting it in this way you have raised the threshold for what is an acceptable call. Most clients, the ones you want anyway, will respect this.

Email is another intrusion on personal time. You can train your clients by letting them know that you do not check your email after hours or on the weekend. If they understand that you don’t check it, it is hard to get upset when you do not respond to their email. If this feels a bit challenging for you, try telling your clients that you do not check your email on your off time but, if there is an emergency, they can call your cell phone. I have a friend that does this and he tells me that he almost never receives a call. Again, you have raised the threshold and effectively trained your client not to disturb your personal time unless it is extremely important.

Balancing your law practice and your personal life is an ongoing challenge but one worthy of continued effort. Build a fence. It’s your life, it’s worth it.

Daniel Roberts

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