General Practice, Solo & Small Firm DivisionSolo NewsletterTime to Make a Difference
By Pamila J. Brown
For busy practitioners who desire to make both a living and a difference in the world, there is always a critical dilemma to be faced: not enough time! Over the years I have developed a strategy that helps keep balance in my life by providing opportunities for spontaneity, allowing time for family and friends, reserving time for myself, fostering my career goals, and enabling me to make a difference in the community in which I live and practice.
I have been fortunate in my life to serve in leadership capacities both within the bar and in the general community, as a former bar association president and chair of an American Bar Association Section. I have been involved with countless civic pursuits that have given me firsthand knowledge about the road to leadership-a process that generally takes time, commitment, and perseverance.
When I first began to practice law, someone suggested that I set one-, five-, and 10-year plans for both my personal and professional goals. As a young lawyer, I began to map out my priorities-my "wish list." Twenty years later, I still use this system; it has helped me to stay organized and focused and effectively balance my home and work time.
An essential skill I've learned is the ability to say "No" and stick with that decision, whether a request involves bar activities or civic work. Remember, once you do a good job, there will be ample opportunities to participate again. The down side is that a good job also means people remember you and will call on you to serve on this board, that committee, a new task force, or any number of working groups.
Some organizations will practically beg or plead for your services; others may try the old, reliable guilt-trip approach. Be firm! Thank them for the honor of being asked, but emphasize that you must-sadly-decline because of other commitments. Refer them to colleagues or other experts, but don't give in.
A word of caution about your actual words: Don't say you're unable take on any additional responsibility "right now," because this can give the impression that you'll be available in six months. Organizers can and will try to negotiate with you and say, "Well, if you can't serve as president, how about just vice president?" (Starting to get the picture?)
In addition, be selective about the activities you do participate in; if the cause or role doesn't meet one of your goals, don't do it! Ask yourself: Does it fulfill a personal or professional desire? Will you make a difference in the community? Is it a long-term or short-term commitment? Is it fun? Can your family participate?
Your best bet is an activity that serves multiple purposes, like serving on the PTA at your child's school. You're helping your child, helping the school, marketing yourself and your firm, contributing to the community, and-ideally-involving your entire family in some part of the activity, for built-in family time.
While juggling conflicting demands is certainly not easy, I've found a little organization, clear goals, and a good sense of humor can bring balance to just about anything.
Pamila J. Brown is a former president of the Bar Association of Baltimore City and former chair of the ABA Government & Public Sector Lawyers Division. She is principal counsel to the Maryland Department of General Services and resides with her family in Columbia, Maryland.