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Lawyering Is Quite the Balancing Act

Drlogo11 This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Practicing Law in the 21st Century."  The article is set forth in full below and a pdf of the article can be found here.

My past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.

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Lawyering is quite the balancing act

“What struck us as we reviewed the results of these forums was that the attorneys’ responses — regardless of their number of years in practice, size of firm, practice setting, etc. — were consistent on one central point: They all were having a very difficult time achieving a balanced life in the law. Again, we wish to emphasize that when we refer to a balanced professional and personal life, we embrace ... not only attention to private interests, family and friends, but also involvement in bar association, civic, and community activities, all of which contribute to achieving a well-balanced life. … Most felt that, at the time they decided to go to law school, they didn’t fully appreciate the extent of the demands a legal career would place on them.”

— New York State Bar Association’s “Final Report of the Special Committee on Balanced Lives in the Law,” March 7

As the recent NYSBA “Final Report of the Special Committee on Balanced Lives in the Law” concluded, the law can be all encompassing.

It’s always been that way, hence the saying “the law is a jealous mistress.”

Attempting to balance one’s chosen career with other non-legal obligations such as the demands of life outside of the office can be a delicate and difficult balancing act for both male and female lawyers.

Prior to becoming a lawyer, I didn’t give the idea of work/life balance much thought. All I’ve ever really wanted to do is litigate.

I spent the first half of my life methodically planning and creating a strong foundation for the first few years of my life as a litigator. But, I was shortsighted and failed to consider that life might throw me a curve ball when I least expected it — in my case, just three weeks before my wedding, when the man I would soon call my husband was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

Not surprisingly, that diagnosis changed me. It changed everything.

I’d met the man I loved and was going to live happily ever after, as both a lawyer and “wife,” much as that term annoyed me. Maybe we’d have kids, too. Who knew?

And then, on that fateful day in April 1998, he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. If he survived, there was a good chance we would face fertility issues. Fertility issues, of all things — when I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids. And, he might die, although, we were assured his particular cancer was “quite curable.” Apparently, we were supposed to feel good about that.

I tried to feel hopeful, but it wasn’t easy. The most difficult times of the day for me were the commutes to and from work. I would find myself stuck in rush hour traffic, seemingly unable to think of anything but the horrible cancer that was invading his body and ruining my marriage before it even began.

Once at work, I was fine (in large part due to the support and understanding of my then-supervisor Jill Paperno, for which I am eternally grateful).

My demanding schedule as an assistant public defender kept my mind more than occupied during the day. Immersing myself in my work seemed to do wonders for my outlook, and at the time I prided myself in the fact that I’d missed only two days of work throughout the entire course of his treatment.

In retrospect, I was taking the easy way out. I avoided the difficult task of confronting reality by convincing myself that my all-important career came first. My husband attended appointments alone, including the doctor’s visit where he was advised his cancer was more serious than originally thought.

If I could do it all again, I’d have been by his side more often throughout this trying time.

Judging from the results of the NYSBA’s study, I’m not alone in my misgivings about the demands of my chosen career. Perhaps the results and recommendations of the study will assist in bringing about a much-needed change in the profession and in the attitudes of those at the top of the legal ladder.

Comments

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Kathleen

Good Lord, Nicole. So you've had problems. Welcome to the human race.

Nicole Black

Huh. Thanks for the comment, Kathleen. Not exactly the response I was expecting, but hey, to each her own, right?

Daille Nation

I dunno Kathleen's comments seem a tad strange too but then online communication is often difficult to assess.

I have a friend who is a lawyer and she has cancer. Like you she immersed herself in her career to forget her own problems I suppose. Interestingly her diagnosis makes me more determined to have a life outside of the law.

You write about your husband and children. Glad they are around and that you have had the chance to grab more out of life.

Kelley Eidem

Speaking of testicular cancer, I cured my own Stage 4 cancer in two weeks...nine years ago.

Julie

It's refreshing to see lawyers talk honestly about the law and the impact of the profession and prevailing attitudes on their lives. The book Staying at Home, Staying in the Law: A Guide to Remaining Active in the Legal Profession While Pursuing Your Dreams (American Bar Association, July 2008) speaks about the profession and the concerns you mention.

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