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‘10 lessons from the 50 yard line’

‘10 lessons from the 50 yard line’

By John Glynn

Trying to balance work and home life can be a challenge. Bankruptcy lawyer Shayna Steinfeld, who has spent the past 14 years running her own firm with her husband, Bruce, has gathered suggestions on how to improve your life at home, thus leading to a better life in the office. In a recent American Bar Association Sound Advice podcast, the president of Atlanta’s Steinfeld & Steinfeld and mother to three boys presented her “10 lessons from the 50 yard line.”

“I’ve chosen this metaphor because I’m going to be 50 this year,” Steinfeld said. “I hope these thoughts can be helpful to you, wherever you are with your career and your efforts to juggle all of the balls in your own lives.”

  1. We have absolute control over our lives but for court and filing deadlines. “Technology enables us, for better or worse, to practice 24/7 from anywhere in the world,” Steinfeld said. “We are available as much or as little as we want to be. Life is amazingly simple, or complicated, as the case may be, because of technology.”
  2. Choose your practice area deliberately. “Doctors have an advantage,” she said. “They are rotated through practice areas in medical school. We don’t have the opportunity to do this in law school.”

    Give this some real consideration, Steinfeld said. What do you like to do? Where are the jobs? What types of people do you like to hang around? If you don’t know, attend some bar meetings with groups of lawyers from different practice areas and see who you like.

    “There are some practice areas that are more conducive to working for yourself than others, and there are some practice areas that require a large firm, large staff or large city,” she said. “This, to me, falls into a category of self-preservation. Life is full of curveballs, and you don’t know where it is going to take you.”
  3. Your health is really important. “Don’t take your health for granted,” Steinfeld said. “Exercise, eat well and live life with gusto. Appreciate the life you have.”
  4. Your most valuable commodities are your time and reputation. “There are only 24 hours in a day, seven days in a week and 365 days in a year,” she said. “You can’t give 2,500 hours to a firm and have the same amount of time for your kids or spouse and still sleep, grocery shop, cook meals and work out. There just aren’t that many hours to go around. You have to make choices. Make them deliberately.”

    In addition, your reputation is your stock-in-trade, Steinfeld said. “It’s awfully hard to clean up a damaged reputation; guard it,” she said. “It’s precious. Practice by playing by the rules and playing ethically. One client or one case is not worth your reputation for life or your license.”
  5. Business and client development is the key to your future. “Determine what your ideal client looks like and how you can develop those clients, and go after them,” Steinfeld said. “Figure out a style that works for you in developing clients, and stick to it. Don’t try to contort yourself into someone else.”
  6. Find your own style of practice. “You don’t have to practice like someone else,” she said. “You can probably still be you and still be effective, as there are different ways to practice law. If someone in your office is trying to contort you into being someone you aren’t, it may be that this isn’t a good fit for you and you need to find a different role model, mentor or practice area.”
  7. Don’t assume that everything will go according to the game plan. For example, if you want to have a family with a certain number of children and you figure you will make partner by age 34, then start having kids, Mother Nature might not cooperate, Steinfeld said. “Well, the firm might not cooperate either,” she said. “You need to live deliberately, and you need to respect Mother Nature. There really is a biological clock. Make these decisions deliberately and informed, and understand the decisions you are making.”
  8. You are the quarterback for your life. “No one else is going to take charge,” Steinfeld said. “You are in charge. You are the one who cares the most. At the same time, treasure the members of your team and tell them you value them and you care. This could apply at the office, but I’m really thinking more about your family and your home. Don’t take everyone there for granted, and don’t assume they will always be there for you.”
  9. There’s no absolute right way to parent. “You find that you make things up as you go along and hope that you don’t have regrets when you look back,” she said. “You do the best you can.”
  10. Life is really about living it to the fullest. That means “smelling the flowers along the way, contributing to the community, doing pro bono work, getting involved in bar work, being someone your grandmother would be proud of, doing good work, saving for retirement and taking vacations,” Steinfeld said. “Sometimes the small plays add up to the big win; sometimes the small mistakes result in a big loss. Sometimes we don’t have control over things we desperately want to control. That’s the way life works. But you can choose to live life deliberately so that you don’t have regrets, or at least so that you minimize the regrets you do have.”

Sound Advice is sponsored by the ABA Section of Litigation.  

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