By R. Jason Huf
You know why you went to law school in the first place: You wanted to help people, change the world, "make a difference", be part of the solution... to whatever. Yeah, and you wanted to live a glorious, fabulous lifestyle at the top of the heap, respected by society and basking in financial comfort. What, no? Liar.
When you finally graduated and passed the bar exam, your new professional qualification represented to you - at long last - the Keys to the Kingdom!
OK, so how's that workin' out for ya?Now that I'm exactly one week into my latest attempt to quit smoking, and as the cold wind howls off the waters of the South Seaport and into the concrete canyons of Downtown Manhattan's Financial District, signaling the evaporation of yet another summer, I reasoned that penning my previously-promised piece on Work/ Life Balance would be timely.
(The cold wind cometh... )You've devoted the first "better" half of your life to developing, well, a better life for you and yours.Late nights at the office during the beginning of your career - part of the drill. No biggie.More late nights managing junior fee earners once you become more seasoned - part of the drill, and "almost there". No biggie.You're now a partner or solo practitioner and the near-constant focus is on client development; or a GC who is a company's responsible officer with a hand in everything from strategic decisions to managing the costs of outside counsel while demonstrating value for those costs; "sigh" - part of the drill, once the rain comes in steady, or I make it to the board of directors, its smooth sailing. No biggie.Then... You've made it! Finally!! You're also 60 years old. Its over... Where did the time go and what was it for? It doesn't matter. Bye-bye. Oh yeah, and: No Biggie. (No, my office doesn't look like this, either... )Time is the one resource we can never obtain more of - only less. Every day. Whether we actually make good (or, any) use of it or not.
And, particularly with lawyers, once we become good at something in our field - whatever your practice areas - those things tend to become routine. Eventually, routine becomes routine. We go through the motions, the excitement of "changing the world" goes away, and its the same old same old that one cannot get away from for even the smallest amount of time, because we've got to do that billable work so we can pay those bills. Joy.
("Seriously, I went to law school for this?")
I worked for years to build my reputation as "Mr. Middle East". However, there are no more revolutionary Shari'ah-compliant financing products to help invent, no more reforms to educational systems in different parts of Arabia. Doing client work that, in some small way, may someday help to generate a broad-based, self-sustaining middle class in the Middle East is more or less over with. Moving forward, whatever happens there is pretty much already in the cards. All too often, I arrive home at 1:00am or so, pet my dog, and think of something along the lines of "Another fast food franchise on Hamdan Street... " or "Another oil refinery in the middle of some dusty nowhere... " followed by the usual "Yay. Who cares."
That's not good. A steady supply of "Bread and Butter" is nice to have, but when its all you have, things can get pretty damned dull. When we get to the point when our work day is up to 16 or even 20 hours a day some days, 5 or 6 days per week, and we no longer care about what we're doing, much less have a passion for it, then this invariably leads to the most dreaded word in the legal lexicon. The "B Word"...
Like many in our profession, I've always been something of a minor league insomniac, so why not work late into the night, anyway? I've done some of my best thinking at 10:00pm. Of course, this means I won't be able to decompress to the point where I can sleep until 3:00am, and that's not good when you have to wake up at 6:00am.
Professional and personal dissatisfaction, as well as chronic exhaustion and "no life syndrome", are common among lawyers. And, there's no way out: you've already invested too much into your career, and your life (or, mere existence, such as it may be) is already half over anyway.
Not necessarily! The good news is, if you're good at your job, your success partially stems from your possession of excellent time management skills and your adept ability to prioritize tasks. Put those skills to work and carve out some free time - make "having a life" one of those tasks which you prioritize on a regular (well OK - semi-regular) basis.
(R&R - fit in in!)We are in the business of being effective counselors who help our clients, be they individual or corporate clients. If you're not being good to yourself, its only a matter of time before you're not being as good as you could and should be for your clients.
I began this summer thinking it was time for "Mr. Middle East" to make full use of his time and status (OK, "Mr. Middle East" may not be lofty to the point of august, but it is kind of snazzy... ). And, then, I proceeded to more or less waste my entire summer. So, what's one summer? No biggie.... Wrong. Its a "biggie". Given my visceral dislike of winter, its effectively the waste of an entire year. Enjoying anything in the cold, wet, sharp, biting wind of the winter months takes considerable effort - and, anything that requires so much effort to "enjoy" is, definitionally, unenjoyable.
At my age, a year's worth of waste is waste I can ill-afford. I will never permit that to happen again - and, neither should you.Necessary late nights will happen. That cannot be helped. But, working late for the mere sake of making "valuable" use of your waking hours misses the real value of time.You - and your clients - can withstand you taking an evening, or even an entire day, off. Working from home once in a while isn't the end of the world, either. Trimming that commute time off of your schedule can make a heck of a difference, and technology makes working from home easier than ever.In managing your time and prioritizing your tasks to make room for an actual "life", don't just take advantage of good weather as and when the seasons of the year allow, but make the most of the location where you are based: whether you've planted your flag in New York, Philadelphia, London, Jeddah, Abu Dhabi, Tampa, Florida or Ashville, North Carolina, you live in one of the great cities of the world - make the most of it. Its practically a sin if you don't!In New York, where I chose to locate JHI's HQ, I am a subway ride from some of the most exciting entertainment on earth, and walking distance from several quick, pleasant distractions. (The World-Famous ROCKETTES!!)
Whether its taking a few hours one evening to enjoy the spectacle of the world's greatest precision dance troupe at work, or a stroll through battery park after your afternoon nap, a brief refresher could actually increase the quality or your work while not severly limiting the amount of time available for work.
In addition to a bit of exercise, a proper diet doesn't hurt, either...
Taking an obscenely long lunch at a comfortable, but not too over-priced, local eatery may be just the ticket when looking for R&R opportunities that will make your thoughts sharper, more clear and faster but more thorough. You won't be able to send your client the bill, but perhaps you should given the subsequent improvement in your performance that results from taking a nice, relaxing breather...
("I wonder if they still serve those off-menu parmesean fries... ")
You can also combine business with pleasure. For example, in line with my loathing for winter, during the bitter months of January and/ or February, I am considering taking a tour of the Middle East and South Asia where the weather will be perfect at that time of year, to visit the Jeddah, KSA office as well as possible expansion points for JHI in the jurisdictions/ markets of the United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi & Dubai), Singapore and India.
Well, I gotta go - I've always wanted to date a Rockette and that's not going to happen by itself, nor will I be able to make it happen while sitting within the four walls of my office.
For now, remember: being good to others first requires that you be good to yourself. Although its easier said than done, "Don't Live to Work, Work to Live" - get back to living the life you intended to live when you started this journey. It comes down to good time management and shrewd prioritization. If you have run out of professional challenges, perhaps find one or two new challenges in your travels. And, there is one more thing that anyone can do, everyone should do more often, it doesn't cost you anything or require additional time, and if you do it more often, it can make a world of difference: SMILE !!- Jason HufTuesday, October 11, 2016New York, NY