LexBlog founder Kevin O’Keefe called me out on Twitter last week when I wrote that being a lawyer doesn’t mean long hours, as you can see below:
I thought my disclaimer was enough—yes, I’ve only practiced law as a part-time lawyer—but other folks brought the heat, too. I should, apparently, “try it sometime” before going off half-cocked.
Just because the chief operating officer of one of the most famous Internet companies of our day (Facebook) goes home every day at 5:30 pm for dinner with her family doesn’t mean lawyers can, too.
But, for those who seemed to agree that being a lawyer doesn’t necessarily mean long hours (and there were plenty), this post addresses so-called “work-life balance,” and why the right mindset can mean everything in order to achieve it.
First, There’s No Such Thing as Work-Life Balance
Let me say right here that I don’t believe in work-life balance.
For some, the practice of law is a joy that trickles down into other areas of life, without having to think about going after the abstract “work-life balance” concept. That’s how it should be.
Deja Weber, a sole practitioner in Minnesota, wrote:
There are those exceptional weeks with trial prep, or emergency filings, but really, I work because I love what I do, but mostly, because I am contributing to the financial support of my family—without my family—work would be pointless.
In other words, Weber’s practice feeds her family, and her family feeds her practice. She sets clear boundaries. She leaves work at work. She makes an effort to leave at a reasonable time. Her law practice is not an all-or-nothing, all-hours-occupied proposition.
And here’s John M. Phillips’s tweet:
If you’re a trial lawyer—or any type of lawyer, for that matter—there will be days where you simply can’t leave the office at 5. You’ll have to work late. It’s what’s called, as Sam Glover wrote, being a professional.
Again, fair enough.
But You Can Cultivate the Right Mindset
Take a poll from any of your friends. Ask them how it’s going. You’ll get a lot of responses on some variation of “busy.” “Oh, it’s so busy right now.” “I’m swamped.” “Gosh, really hectic, Chris.”
These are lawyers and non-lawyers.
We’re all, every one of us, “busy.”
So are doctors (the professional analog we lawyers love to compare ourselves to). So are young working mothers with newborn twins (my wife). So are folks making minimum wage and working more than one job to make ends meet.
We should change our mindset.
I find it hard to believe that Sandberg hasn’t changed hers, which has allowed her to leave the office at 5:30 pm to be with her family.
After all, it would be easy for her to fret over how busy she is, wouldn’t it? She’s not a lawyer in private practice. But she is the COO of Facebook.