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Lawyers Need to Get a Life


This week's Daily Record column is entitled "Lawyers Need to Get a Life."

A pdf of the article can be found here and my past Daily Record articles can be accessed here.


Lawyers Need to Get a Life

Last week I attended the “Get a Life” conference in Chicago. Its goal? Help attorneys discover how to “run [their] practice without running [themselves] into the ground.” It was a great conference —really interesting and knowledgeable speakers, relevant and timely topics, great people, delicious food and good times.

The Total Practice Management Association did a great job, and it was well worth the trip.

Most notably, TPMA managed to put on a conference unlike any other I’ve ever attended. The overriding theme of the unique exhibit hall was difficult to miss: Practice law, but enjoy your life. Thus, in one corner, there was a large bunch of roses to smell. In another, a patch of green grass to walk on, a Wii game console in
another, and free massages were offered the last corner of the room —not your average law conference.

As I listened to the speakers discuss topics ranging from legal marketing, practice management and work/life balance, however, I wondered why it is that lawyers need to be taught how to “get a life.”

Why is it that the practice of law tends to eradicate the semblance of a normal paced life? How does our profession manage to suck the joy from the lives of
attorneys, leaving behind stressed out, argumentative, humorless individuals, eyes glazed over from fatigue, their personal lives in ruin?

I mulled over those questions as I absorbed the useful information being presented and became increasingly depressed at the notion that legal conferences of this nature were even necessary.

Without question, however, they are.

The practice of law is uniquely stressful, alienating and inflexible. Many lawyers leave the profession for greener pastures, including, somewhat ironically, many of the speakers at this conference. And, truth be told, they seemed much happier than some of the lawyers who were sitting in the audience.

That doesn’t necessarily mean that leaving the law is the only way for lawyers to be happy. Those lawyers who unexpectedly lost their law jobs as a result of the recent economic downturn would be well advised to take a long, hard look at their lives and assess their level of career satisfaction, however.

Those who determine that the practice of law is more draining than it is fulfilling should look at their fate as an opportunity to pursue an alternative career. An unplanned job loss might very well be the incentive someone needs to “get a life” —a happier, more satisfying life outside of law.

If the practice of law continues to bring you joy, despite its inherent stresses, tweaking the ways in which you manage and promote your practice will reduce the stressors and increase career satisfaction.

The conference was designed to provide information and tools for accomplishing that very task. Attendees learned that targeted, effective marketing and online networking can bring clients in the door. Likewise, focused, intelligent hiring —and firing — strategies can reduce unpleasant management issues down the road.

Similarly, outsourcing and the creative use of new technologies can simultaneously simplify a practice and cut costs.

If you enjoy practicing law, take steps to ensure that you will continue to do so.  Make it a point to attend the “Get a Life” conference in 2010 and learn how to eliminate stressors and streamline your practice.

You deserve to have a life, and this conference will help you to get on the right track.


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It's great to see lawyers (and others) pushing for having a life.

However, I'm still stuck a bit. Here's my problem with the discussion. Much of the get a life debate revolves around the billable hour. The theory goes - lawyers have been traditionally paid by the billable hour and the traditional firm model (being focused on maximizing profit) aims to get the most out of every lawyer. Hence dissatisfaction > depression are rampant within the industry. I'm not sure this focus is going to address the problem. Certainly the whole initiative brings awareness and that's a good thing.

Much of the stress and long hours that comes with lawyering just comes from "trying to be a good lawyer." I can only speak for myself, but I've never ever been focused on the billable hour. I've worked at several firms, some of which had substantial billable hour "requirements" and some of which didn't. My hourly input was never influenced by these requirements.

I've since started my own firm. I'm loving it. Things are going great. However, I work more than I've ever worked at any other place. The reason is that I stress about doing a good job for "my clients." I'm not sure this will ever go away. We can try to minimize it and look for ways to make life easier (e.g., technology) but at the end of the day, I've come to the conclusion that lawyering is and will always be a relatively high stress/time intensive exercise. Regardless of whether I have five clients or twenty. Regardless of whether I'm working on big matters or small matters. That's just my nature and I think the nature of many many good lawyers I've encountered. I don't ever discount anyone for trying to focus on work/life balance, but I've yet to encounter a standout lawyer that practices casually. Again, this is purely anecdotal/personal evidence.

On the bright side, I was on vacation last week - working a menial hour per day. :-)


I think the Get A Life conference would have been very interesting - will have to remember that for next year!

That said, and especially in light of the comment by Venkat, I think part of the problem in getting lawyers to have more of a life is sort of two-pronged. First firms have to truly encourage an appropriate billable hours target and second, firm lawyers and solo lawyers need to recognize that while being driven and committed to clients is great, they don't have to do it alone and they should not do it at the expense of their mental/physical health - which means they must find time to enjoy their life somehow.

As a fairly new business owner these are lessons I need to learn as well!

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