With the busy holiday season behind us and a new year in front of us, now is a good time for family law attorneys to reflect on the sometimes hard-learned lessons of 2023 to achieve better results and more work-life balance in 2024. We are well-versed in navigating sometimes complex situations and can sometimes be so focused on client satisfaction that we neglect our own mental health and well-being. As we all know, helping our clients through high-conflict situations is demanding and can take its toll. Whether it is a distraught client who is upset with their co-parent’s failure to abide by a carefully drafted parenting plan or a difficult opposing counsel, we spend time solving problems for others often at the expense of time with our own families. But it is possible to achieve better balance while still addressing our clients’ needs. It begins with settting and communicating healthy boundaries. All it takes is some careful and strategic planning.
You may have recently experienced a “holiday emergency” that just couldn’t wait and interupted your holiday plans. Perhaps this year, we can be more proactive in addressing poential issues ahead of planned time off with clients. Where communication between the parties is already a major issue, solidifying a concrete plan for holidays and summer vacations can be critical for both you and your client. For example, when a long-distance parenting plan is set in place, verifying that the necessary plane tickets are booked and paid for in advance can help prevent travel-related issues from arising in the eleventh hour. Sometimes, taking the extra time to carefully review the parenting plan with your client, or even reaching out to opposing counsel to confirm that the other party is on the same page, can serve as an additional tactic to ensure schedules run as smoothly as possible.
Furthermore, as much as we all value our clients, we can only serve them well if we are well. This issue of Family Advocate is centered around addiction and other impairments, including those affecting our clients, colleagues, opposing counsel, and maybe even some among us. The stress of our profession and the substance abuse in the legal profession are well-documented. For everyone, learning to manage our stressors in a healthy way is critical. At the simplest level, we can do things like calendar designated times during those rare but needed days away to review our never-ending emails and messages to make sure that we make it on time to our own family gatherings. If you are like me, and normally make yourself available to your clients 24/7, notifying your clients beforehand of the days and times that you are available/unavailable is a must so that your personal time is not hijacked by client drama.
While navigating our busy lives is always a work in progress, small steps can add up to better health. Thoughtful planning, setting boundaries, and learning how to prioritize what is important can be beneficial to us all as we continue to improve upon ourselves in the new year. I hope that these tips and the articles addressing addiction within this issue are helpful to you and your practice. If you are struggling yourself, please know there are a myriad of lawyer assistance programs available to you. A list can be found on the ABA’s Commission on Lawyer Assistance Programs webpage.
I invite you all to join your fellow Family Law Section members for stellar programming and rewarding networking opporunties all at our upcoming ABA Family Law Section Spring CLE Conference in Boston from May 1–4, 2024. Stay tuned for additional updates as registration will be opening this winter.