Lawyers: Balance Your Work and Personal Life

Lawyers: Balance Your Work and Personal Life

Jeff Wolf, President, RCC

Lawyers: Balance Your Work and Personal Life

By Jeff Wolf

Time to Read: 3 minutes

As we celebrate our 20th anniversary, I’d like to thank all our clients for the trust they’ve placed in us. We appreciate your confidence and look forward to the opportunity to continue our partnership as we strive to earn your loyalty every day by exceeding expectations.

As I reflect on our 20-year history of service to the legal community, I’m reminded daily the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In our 2007 newsletter, Burnout: A Necessary Part of Lawyer’s Lives?, my colleague Randy Christison was spot on with his analysis and ahead of his time.  

Sadly, during the last thirteen years, we have seen the burnout problem accelerate and become a major problem for lawyers and law firms. Lawyer well-being issues can no longer be ignored.

Work and personal life balance.

A proper work and personal life balance continue to be a key issue for most lawyers today.  With the pressure placed on lawyers to execute and perform, what steps can they take to extract the most joy from their work?

Lawyers are working longer hours, making work-life balance a critical issue that won’t go away soon.  Certainly, technology has a huge impact on our lives.  Immediate access and availability through smartphones, instant messaging, and email, put great pressure on lawyers to respond quickly to both large and inconsequential problems.

When I coach lawyers, I find that many are tethered to their devices.  As a result, they often tend to experience a loss of focus, lack of energy, and decline in decision-making ability, leading to job burnout, high stress, divorce, and even alcohol or drug dependency.

To effectively have a more balanced life, higher productivity, less stress, and greater job satisfaction, I usually recommend several key steps that are easy to initiate:

  • Learn to say no.  As lawyers, we are always asked to take on more responsibilities, deadlines, and commitments.  It’s human nature to try to please everyone and expect more from ourselves, but we can easily accept more work than we’re realistically capable of completing.  Saying no, or declining with gratitude, in a professional way prevents you from overloading your schedule and accepting more than you can handle. The adage "think before you speak" is relevant when you’re asked to take on more responsibility.
  • Determine when you’re at the peak of your day.  People have peak and low periods during a workday.  Find your peak and tackle the most important issues during that time.
  • Create a not-to-do list. That is composed of activities that need to be completed but needn’t be personally handled by you.  Decide who you can empower to complete these tasks and turn them loose.
  • Empower others.  Surround yourself with great people (paralegals, admin assistants, associates, partners) and empower them with decision-making responsibilities.
  • Establish a no-contact or "me" time.  Close your office door for 30 minutes at least three days a week for reflection. Think about what’s going right, what’s going wrong and lessons learned. This allows you to focus on being at the top of your game and to step back and put things in perspective. Let everyone know that you’re not to be disturbed.  Don’t answer the phone or emails or reply to messages.
  • Maintain your energy and exercise regularly.  Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water and eat balanced meals.  Get out from behind your desk and go for five-minute walks two to three times a day.
  • Implement periodic stand-up meetings.  Much of what’s achieved in a one-hour meeting can be handled in 15-to-30 minute gatherings where everyone stands.  This keeps people on track and focused on resolving key issues quickly.
  • Take your allotted time.  Don’t skip lunch or eat at your desk. If you do, you’re not taking the time you need to replenish your body’s energy.  You’ll be even more productive if you grab a healthful lunch, outside your office’s four walls, followed by a short walk. Sick leave and vacation time were invented for a reason. If you’re sick, you’re not supposed to go to work. If you break this rule, you’ll become even more rundown, and you’ll selfishly risk infecting your coworkers. Vacation time is earned, so be sure to use it…and all of it. People who take their vacation days have lower incidence of cardiovascular problems. Taking much-needed vacation breaks is not only good for you – it’s also good for the firm. So, don’t feel guilty about vacation time.
  • Decide what’s important to you. Do you live to work or work to live?  It’s a simple, yet critical, question. Working to live should pay the bills while bringing you satisfaction.  Living to work, however, means you are likely making sacrifices in other areas of your life. For many lawyers, the term workaholic has become a badge of honor.  This misguided approach places work at the top of our priority hierarchy…and then we wonder why our spouses serve us with divorce papers, our kids are alienated because we’re never home, and we’re too tired to enjoy the activities that have historically given us pleasure. Since the legal profession places high value on work and lauds lawyers for their strong work ethic, recognizing workaholism as a dangerous problem is anuphill battle.  The workaholic lifestyle is detrimental to your ability to function and to firm health.

Make a commitment.

Lawyers must recognize the need to slow down, enjoy life, and replenish their energy supply daily.  Having a balanced life takes into account all your needs, including family, friends, work, play, private time, exercise, and spiritual time.  It’s a matter of getting your priorities straight.

We often say we’re working long hours for our families, but if we ask our families, they’ll say they would like to have us around more.  Think about the impact you have on your family by working long hours.  Then take a few minutes out of your busy day and try to figure out how to cut back and rearrange your priorities.

The key to achieving a balanced life is building it into your schedule like anything else and then making it a habit.  Start by making an action plan:  Look at your schedule two to three weeks in advance and block out time for things you enjoy doing and people you enjoy being with.  It takes discipline to do this, and discipline is what lawyers have.

Making a commitment to work-life balance makes lawyers more productive and better prepared to handle the daily tasks, while providing the time to enjoy life.

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Lawyer Burnout

Jeff Wolf is one of the most highly sought after executive coaches in business today, was named one of the country’s top 100 thought leaders and has been featured on NBC, CNBC, CBS and Fox TV .

He is an international best-selling author and his coaching and training programs help lawyers build a better practice for a successful, fulfilling and satisfying career.

He understands that burnout has devastating consequences for a lawyer, their family, the firm, its clients and their colleagues.

He may be reached in his San Diego office: 858-638 8260



Wolf Management Consultants



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