Oftentimes, dissatisfaction comes from being uncertain about where we want our lawyer lifestyle to go. So, the first step to designing a plan for your life and career is to know what you want personally and professionally as a lawyer. Not knowing what we want is working towards ambiguity, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction in our personal and professional lives.
Being an attorney can be a fulfilling job, especially when we get a win for our clients, but lawyers also carry the problems of our clients and the stress of cases everywhere we go. Being an attorney can affect our lawyer lifestyle, sometimes to the point where we feel dissatisfied with our career or its direction.
Designing the Lawyer Lifestyle (and Career) You Love
“Unhappiness is not knowing what we want and killing ourselves to get it.”
– Don Herold.
The first step to designing a life and career is to know what you want personally and professionally. Not knowing what we want is working towards ambiguity, unhappiness, and dissatisfaction in our personal and professional life.
At a certain point, we take a step back and ask ourselves if we’re happy with the direction our life and career is going. A lot of this uncertainty comes from not knowing what we really want for ourselves. Having the life you want isn’t a pipe dream. We’re here to help you find and improve the ideal lawyer lifestyle you’ve always wanted.
When we don’t have a clear idea of what we want, we tend to default to what others in our position have wanted in the past. Some have wanted a lot of money, or to only take high-profile cases. Others want to make partner at a corporate firm, while others work for social justice and equality for all. These are all fine things to work towards, but if they’re not what you want, then they’re the wrong things to work towards.
If you’re feeling lost, unfulfilled, or have a lack of clear goals for your career, really take some time to ask yourself:
- Do you know what you want to get out of your firm?
- How much money do you want to make?
- How many hours do you want to work?
- How much vacation time do you want?
- What kind of work do you want to be doing?
- How do you want your work life to fit into your personal life?
- What impact, if any, do you want your work to have on your community?
If you’re not able to answer any of these questions, you’ll need to take a step back to figure out your personal vision and goals for yourself. First, think about your personal goals and your goals for your law firm. Then ask yourself if your current work situation will help you fulfill your goals this year. What about five or ten years from now? If you don’t have goals for your work, it will be impossible to find the motivation to improve your lawyer lifestyle and your firm.
You can and should be able to design the life you want to live. If your law firm exists for you to serve it and not the other way around, then what’s the point in working? Your law firm should support the life you’re trying to create.
Mental Health and Work-Life Balance
Mental health challenges, addiction, anxiety, and depression are common and significant challenges in the legal profession that is only recently starting to be taken more seriously. Another hurdle for attorneys is the stigma that mental health challenges and addictions are signs of weakness, and no good lawyer should ever show weakness.
This is the wrong way to think about a serious problem. It’s important to have frank discussions and be honest about mental health and well-being in the legal profession, for yourself, your staff, and others.
One way to support a healthier lifestyle and well-being at your firm is to make sure your employee manual or HR policy explicitly calls attention to your firm’s support for mental health. Include resources for help and support, and make sure you encourage people to take the time they need to lead a healthier and happier life.
You can also create a healthy work environment. This can be a fun activity. For example, you can:
- Offer snacks and drinks at the office
- Offer meditation breaks
- Bring a yoga instructor in
- Keep bikes at the office and encourage people to go for a bike ride during breaks
- Bring in financial coaches to help with any financial plans or questions people have (financial wellbeing is mental wellbeing too)
- Create and offer a list of resources for people to use in their own time
- Make it clear that leadership and HR are always available to discuss any serious issues
Consider what kind of after-work activities you promote and make sure that it’s inclusive. Is it always drinking together at a happy hour? Especially since some attorneys struggle with substance abuse, this isn’t always a great option. Is it golf but only a few people enjoy golf? Sometimes, something as simple as a picnic at a local park or ice cream social at the office can help bring people together.
Another major part of mental wellness at work is finding work-life balance. “Work-life balance” can be a misleading term. It implies that it must be 50/50 work/life, and that work and life are in opposition to each other. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Work-life balance means different things to different people, and will change over time, and that’s ok! Depending on where you are in life, your personal goals may be secondary to your business goals. Maybe you’re at a point where your personal satisfaction is derived from your success in your career. Alternatively, you could be in a position where you want more work-life harmony, so you can travel more, spend more time with family, or have a more robust personal life.
Ultimately, work-life balance comes down to making the time to take care of yourself, mentally and physically.
One way to do this is to keep your work hours in check. When you work too much, you’re not helping anyone. People stop being productive, careful, and clear-headed after around fifty to fifty-five hours of work a week. While that number varies from person to person, and you may need to pull the occasional all-nighter or weekend job, there’s no need to work beyond your capacity all the time.
You don’t have to be “on” all the time. Be present when you’re at work and be present when you’re with your friends and family or doing a hobby. Even if work is the most important thing to you at this point in your life, there has to be an actual life that underpins your work, whether that involves family, friends, hobbies, travel, or all of the above.
Make sure you’re taking care of yourself. Working overtime all the time, eating the wrong foods, addictions in any form, not exercising or not sleeping enough, will catch up with you. No client, job, or boss is worth the loss of quality of life.
Managing Personal and Professional Relationships
Spending 40 hours a week at the office, going to court, meeting with other attorneys, it’s inevitable that work colleagues become friends. Having friends at work can help you feel more satisfied and happier at work, but it’s not without risks.
Aside from the distraction part of having friends at work–that small talk by the water cooler can quickly turn into an hour-long discussion–there are other risks involved as well. It can be difficult to resolve professional conflicts on a professional level once you’ve become close friends with a colleague. The dynamics can be difficult to manage.
One option to manage these relationships is to keep those spheres separate. This means communicating to those who are both personal and professional friends that work is work and friendship is friendship and that you don’t want to mix the two. This also means a clear delineation when communicating with these friends. For example, work emails for work-related things only, and social media to schedule a personal lunch together. You could also set times for when you’re working and when you’re off to better separate these two worlds. This option helps you create boundaries for yourself and your work.
You can also group the relationships together. This option is a little more difficult to balance but feels more natural. To get started with this option, you can make the effort to ask how a work colleague is doing and take an interest in learning more about their personal life. Take the time to cultivate meaningful relationships both on a personal and professional level by caring about them as a person, and not just a networking contact.
Either option, you need to maintain a level of professionalism and understand what works best for you. For some people, you may want to keep work and friendship separate. For others, you can balance the two. Or maybe you’re the type of person that needs that separation. Knowing yourself and how you work can help you better manage these relationships.
Travel, Vacations, and Hobbies
Finding time to travel, take vacations, or to do your hobbies can be tricky, especially when you’re running your own firm. But part of finding that time is designing your firm to fit your lawyer lifestyle. For example, if travel and vacation time is the primary personal goal for your lawyer lifestyle, then start there and work backwards on how to achieve that with your firm.
For example, to take 8 weeks of vacation every year, how much do you need to earn? How can you automate your firm and delegate tasks without damaging your practice? Are you comfortable with taking working vacations and making your office a paperless one? From there, you can determine how to manage your office to help you achieve your goals.
Sometimes pursuing your goals means more flexibility and space in your schedule. This may mean that you have a strict work routine and time block to minimize interruptions, or that you work less than full time and make less money as a result. But if your priority is flexibility, then that’s ok! You shouldn’t feel pressured to work all the time. Part of creating a firm that fits your lawyer lifestyle is creating a culture that supports, rewards, and celebrates pursuing your personal goals.
Professional Guide: How to Dress Like a Lawyer
Dressing like a lawyer isn’t just a power suit anymore. Increasingly, attorneys are showing up for work in jeans and a blazer, or even more casual. Dressing like a lawyer will depend on your workspace and your personal taste. If you’re interested in learning more, check out our How to Dress Like a Lawyer portal for some excellent posts on dressing for success, or on how to tie a bow tie!
Professional Guide: Gift Guide for Lawyers and Clients
Some lawyers and clients can be difficult to shop for. We hope to make that a little easier for you. From tech to clothing to accessories to health and wellness gadgets, check out our Gift Guide portal for some suggestions on gifts for that hard-to-shop-for lawyer in your life.
If you want to learn more about lawyer lifestyle, finding work-life balance, or how to run a better law firm, take your practice to the next level by signing up to be a Lawyerist Insider, if you haven’t already. You’ll get access to our library of downloads and our private Facebook Group. If you’re really eager to build an efficient and future-oriented practice, check out Lawyerist Lab for hands-on, personalized training to help you build your dream law practice.