Here’s how to have a satisfying and effective work-life balance, by nurturing your support group and yourself.
Make Time for Family and Friends
What’s the sense of having a family if you’re rarely around? On your deathbed, is it more likely you’ll be thinking “I wish I had billed more hours” or “I wish I had spent more time with my family?”
Take advantage of your firm’s maternity- and paternity-leave policies. As your kids grow up, whenever possible, attend events, such as parent-teacher conferences, school plays, and sports competitions in which your kids participate—even if they are during working hours. Create meaningful time with your family to create memories that will last a lifetime. You will get your work done, just at different times of the day or week. Hours are fungible. Your kids will only grow up once.
And don’t give up your social life. As Samuel Johnson said, “If a man does not make new acquaintances as he advances through life, he will soon find himself left alone. A man, sir, should keep his friendships in constant repair.”
Advise Family and Friends of Trial Demands
Inform family members and friends in advance that you will be very much preoccupied, if not incommunicado, just before and during a trial. Trial work is stressful enough without burdening yourself with avoidable marital or family stress. Discuss your needs beforehand, so that people in your support group will be there for you when it counts.
Make Time for Yourself
Making time for yourself should relax you, clarify what’s important to you, and enhance your enjoyment of life. It will also reduce the likelihood that you will begrudge the time you devote to your work.
Take Fulfilling Vacations
The prerequisite is to take vacations. Don’t skip them unless you’ve been assigned a conflicting date for trial that you cannot reschedule. Plan a vacation that will be fun for you and your family.
Arrange for someone to cover for you. Leave a number where you can be reached, but only in an emergency. Don’t take a pseudo-vacation by calling the office and checking your emails daily. Your mind—not just your body—must be on vacation, or it’s a useless exercise. By taking this advice, you should return to work refreshed and invigorated.
Vary Your Routine
Work routine has advantages—predictability, reliability, and regularity. But routine can also be mind-numbing. It is revivifying to alter your routine occasionally. Change your time of arrival, departure, or lunch; your route to work; your lunch companion; your office furniture or decor. Bring a plant to your office. Breathe fresh life into your daily habits.
Expand Your Horizons
Remember life before law school? You probably have interests, hobbies, and intellectual pursuits that have lain dormant many years. Get out that old musical instrument; read a novel; go to the theater, movies, concerts, art galleries, sporting events—whatever you enjoy. Develop friendships with non-lawyers. Doing so is healthy not only for you personally but for you as a trial lawyer. As Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. observed, “The life of the law has not been logic: It has been experience.”
Studies confirm that being in nature restores mental energy, improves concentration, enhances creativity, improves sleep, and reduces anxiety and stress. Go for a walk in the woods, a stroll in the park—and how about a picnic?
Take Good Care of Your Body
Trial lawyers are the athletes of the bar. For practical tips on how to eat right, sleep right, and exercise right – as well as everything else in this Practice Point—read the chapter “Coping with Stress” in the book referenced below.
Make a commitment to yourself. You may be thinking: This may be good advice, but I simply don’t have the time, considering work commitments, billable hour requirements, and obligations to clients. If you don’t take this advice, you could burn out, and then where would you be? Consider this: You can give of yourself to your clients only if you are fulfilled. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
Stewart Edelstein, who taught clinical courses at Yale Law School for 20 years during his 40-year career as a trial lawyer, is the author, most recently, of How to Succeed as a Trial Lawyer, 2d ed. (ABA 2017).