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February 24, 2017 Practice Points

The Importance of Work/Life Balance

By Elizabeth M. Miller

The legal profession can be a tough career path for anyone—lawyer, paralegal, or administrator. Fortunately, in the last few years many professions are recognizing the importance of work/life balance to give everyone an opportunity to decompress and recharge.

There are a few signs that will tell you if you are suffering from a lack of work/life balance. The need to excel and bill hours and be successful still exists. Here are some questions to ask yourself to assess your physical and mental health and the need to bring some work/life balance into your life:

  1. Do you feel overwhelmed before you even get to the office and wonder how late you will have to stay tonight to get a day's work done?
  2. When you are working on projects do you find yourself not only trying to work on the current project but also thinking about the other 5 things you need to do before you leave the office at 9 pm?
  3. Do you feel exhausted all the time?
  4. Do you feel like the only thing that you do is work and that there is no "me" time and no down time? 
  5. Can you remember the last time you took a vacation?
  6. Do you have a vacation planned or have you even thought about vacation?
  7. Are you so exhausted that you cannot sleep at night thinking about all the things you didn't accomplish today that you will have to do tomorrow before you can get to the things you have to do tomorrow?
  8. Do you sleep with your cell phone or some other device by your bedside?

There is a lot to be said for the cliché of working smart and not hard. Remember a client is not impressed by the number of billable hours that you work on their case, they are impressed by the result. Time management and organization skills are very important in maintaining a work/life balance and a big part of getting work done in an orderly process without burning out before the day is over.
Here's what you can do to ensure that you, and your staff, have a work/life balance and don't burn out:

  1. Take a lunch break.
  2. Drink water.
  3. Eat healthy. In the afternoon when your energy starts to wane, eat some protein. It will give you a boost and you will feel rejuvenated.
  4. Get enough sleep. Eventually when you are able to achieve a work/life balance and do not think about work all the time, sleep will come easier too.
  5. Prioritize. Really prioritize—not with an "everything has to get done now" attitude but be realistic about deadlines.
  6. Hire competent people and you won't have to worry as much. Sometimes it is a little more costly in terms of compensation to hire people who have more experience.
  7. Delegate. Do not try to do everything in your law firm by yourself. You cannot be the paralegal and the attorney and the administrator. See #6 and get competent help to assist with non-billable functions in the office so you can spend more time doing billable client work.

Work/life balance is important for everyone. The work will get done and clients will receive exceptional service especially if your staff is not so burned out from putting in long hours that do not accomplish anything except that they are working long hours. Everyone needs down time—even you!

Elizabeth Miller is an independent/contract law firm administrator helping attorneys manage the "business" of practicing law in Tampa, Florida.

Copyright © 2017, American Bar Association. All rights reserved. This information or any portion thereof may not be copied or disseminated in any form or by any means or downloaded or stored in an electronic database or retrieval system without the express written consent of the American Bar Association. The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of the American Bar Association, the Section of Litigation, this committee, or the employer(s) of the author(s).