Balance Your Practice

By James M. Durant III

Sometimes we have to stop and simply reflect or assess what truly matters. Is it that deposition in the Sam Rendon case? The commercial closing for Mr. Gerald Thompson? Mr. Kerry McGhee’s pretrial hearing? The simple answer to this quiz is none of the above. This life assessment is real, and it is certainly no college exam. Trust me, what we do to earn our livelihood doesn’t define us—what we do for others is the true measure and definition of our lives. Moreover, “others” in this context ostensibly defines our family and friends. For many of us, our family has stood by us with unmitigated and unconditional support while we served our clients. Our children, spouses, partners, and significant others watch us practice law with little to no real understanding of the amount of energy, effort, and dedication we give to deliver the very best legal services to our clients—the others.

But the truth is that, in many cases, the benefit we receive from our clients for doing our best is tenuous in retrospect as compared to the lasting benefit we receive from being there for family and friends. Think of the past ten to 20 years of your practice—do you recall specific client profiles and personalities? How many of them actually made you smile? How many of them do you contact on a frequent basis? Now think of your family members and close friends who are, by the way, still in your lives. What goes through your mind when you think about their personalities and the holidays, vacations, and events you shared with them? I submit to you that the latter are more prominent in your mind than the former. For me, no professional memory even comes close to my renewal of vows with my wife in Paris or the births of my two sons, not to mention numerous Christmas celebrations, school plays and concerts, graduations, family holidays in the Caribbean and Europe, family ski vacations in Utah and Colorado, etc. These events are incredible and lasting, and the remuneration is greater than any retainer or salary received from a client. These family memories are priceless.

Balancing personal, professional, and civic responsibilities is exemplified by GPSolo Division leader and sole practitioner Alan O. Olson, from Des Moines, Iowa. Alan and his wife, Carla, work together to juggle their two boys’ busy schedules while each being self-employed. Alan handles complex plaintiff personal injury cases throughout the country while serving as President-Elect of the Iowa Association for Justice, serving as a member of the Iowa Legal Aid Board of Directors, representing Iowa in the ABA House of Delegates, and coaching competitive youth baseball. Alan says the key to achieving balance is excellent organization, working smarter as well as working harder, and going out of your way to be inclusive in all endeavors.

I do recognize, however, that achieving balance is easier said than done. You have to work at it. I have visited with several Division members who, I think, have achieved some balance in their lives. I solicited these members for advice, and what I received was incredible. One member told me that he sets aside Thursday afternoon every week for lunch with his wife. He called it his “standing date.” Another member said that his family has  “Board Game Night” every Wednesday. He also said the he and his kids have “Movie Night” at least once a week. His concept of Movie Night is a DVD with soda and popcorn on the sofa in the comforts of his own home. He invested in a big, flat-screen TV with surround sound for about $800. He told me that this was one of his best investments. Another member said that she works out with her significant other three times a week; she mentioned that this work-out dating is “the best” and the rewards are tremendous. One member said that he cooks pancakes or waffles for his family every Saturday and Sunday he is home—and that his family counts on it!

You can catch me skiing and boarding with my boys almost every weekend from December through April. You can also catch me reading to my sons every night that I am home. When I deployed to Bosnia a few years ago, I made an eight-hour tape recording of myself reading more than 50 children’s stories. While serving at the State Department last summer, I flew my family in and we did something every day in Washington, D.C., and the surrounding areas. We had so much fun, my family almost forgot that I went to D.C. to work.

Balance doesn’t just include family; it also includes self. Yes, I said it: self! You have to know when to say enough. This is hard for many of us “Type A” personalities. We just can’t seem to let go sometimes. This year I was startled by some unpleasant news from my physician, who alerted me that my blood pressure had spiked. After sharing this news with other 44-year-old lawyers in the office, I heard similar accounts. I got advice ranging from eating a garlic clove per day to getting into yoga. I chose to cut the salt and caffeine, increase the exercise to five times a week, and stick to a diet primarily consisting of fish, fowl, oatmeal, and heavy vegetables with generous amounts of olive oil. Moreover, I assumed a new attitude about life and put law practice matters in their proper perspective—i.e., excellence in all I do, but a healthy lifestyle first and foremost! Since making these changes, I’ve had no blood pressure issues. However, let’s be real. We are not getting any younger, and blood pressure is just one matter about which we must remain vigilant.

Okay, there you have it: balance. We lawyers have to get out and away from the office and simply enjoy life. This means more than just smelling the roses. We have to take it in day-by-day, as if tomorrow will not come. If it is an attitude adjustment that is needed, then just do it. You haven’t worked this hard only to leave an impressive tombstone. Balance will give you the road map for a better life and will ensure you do your best for all concerned. I am proud to be called Daddy and Husband. Those titles blow away any competition, including Professor, Chair, and Colonel. You see, I am a snowboarder, and when I am shredding powder with my sons, nothing else matters. The only thought is enjoying the ride with the boys. I challenge you to just enjoy the ride. Life is full of smiles and grins. Enjoy them while they last.

The views expressed herein do not reflect the opinion of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Air Force.


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