Leisure Is Not for the Lazy

By Joan M. Burda

“Don’t underestimate the value of Doing Nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.”  — Pooh’s Little Instruction Book, inspired by A.A. Milne

When I started writing this column, I thought about what “leisure” means. When I think of the word, I envision something enjoyable. Seems I’m right on target. “Leisure” is “freedom from . . . work or duty”; “when one can rest”; “unhurried ease”; “free or unoccupied hours”; and, my personal favorite: “without haste; slowly.”

Looking at those definitions, I realized none of them apply to the practice of law. Lawyers tend to give leisure short shrift—and we do so at our peril. Solos may be the worst offenders because we are totally dependent on ourselves for our livelihood. Small firm practitioners are almost as bad.

When solos and small firm lawyers take time off, they know their bottom line usually takes a hit. Corporate counsel, mega-firm lawyers, judges, JAG officers, and government employees, on the other hand, have the luxury of knowing they have a paycheck even while at leisure.

Just before the 2009 ABA Annual Meeting, I learned that my position with the Cleveland Homeless Legal Assistance Program was eliminated—no funding. Suddenly, I found myself with more leisure time than before, and my small solo practice became a much bigger factor in my life. I also found myself in the enviable (?) position of having time to figure out what I wanted to do in my life and career. The past eight months have been frightening . . . and frustrating . . . and fascinating . . . if not always fruitful. I decided that I am at the stage of my career where I want to do exactly what I want, the way I want, and with whom I want.

“ Leisure only means a chance to do other jobs that demand attention.”  — Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

In addition to my practice, I teach at Cleveland’s Case Western Reserve University School of Law and at Ursuline College in nearby Pepper Pike, Ohio. I’m updating my estate-planning book and will then update my other book. I’m developing a website, . I want to attend the Iowa Writers’ Workshop this summer because I started writing a novel. And I want to spend a month in Mexico learning Spanish (jennifer, I need to talk to you about that). Plus, all the other irons in my various fires.

As the months go on, I find that I enjoy this transition. I like the creativity. And I am realizing more about my talents, my interests, and myself.

I’m redefining the meaning of “leisure” for myself. It is not so much the absence of work but the absence of haste. I’m busy without being overwhelmed. And I like this new way of going about things.

I admit, when I first lost that steady check, I was less than sanguine about the situation. It was scary knowing that safety net was no longer there. And I initially squandered too much time. Hindsight is always much clearer—I wish I had done more. But I’m catching up to myself. I’m especially grateful for having time to think, to consider my options and reflect. I realized that I have so many options. Of course, I could do none of this without the support of my partner, Betsy.

Technology makes it easier for solos and small firm lawyers to play in the same league as big firm lawyers, but it can also interfere with our leisure. We can do things faster, more efficiently, and with greater cost-effectiveness, but too often we see this as a way to do more, rather than using that technology to improve our way of living.

Leisure is something we owe our families and ourselves. I think you might find that this issue gives you the chance to look at leisure in a different light. Practicing law and enjoying leisure can coexist. One does not obviate the need for the other. Technology gives us greater control over our practices. That means we can use that control for our benefit.

Jim Menton has, once again, put together an outstanding issue (which revisits a theme we last tackled in this magazine 11 years ago). There is a mix of articles that will give you ideas for your own leisure time and for making leisure a part of your practice.

With this issue, think of spring and summer and gentle nights and lightning bugs. Think of leisure and take Robert Fulghum’s advice: “If you want an interesting party sometime, combine cocktails and a fresh box of crayons for everyone.”

When this issue hits the street, Betsy, my sister Janet, and I will be in Italy. Ciao!


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