Even New Attorneys Need to Set Boundaries

Shannon M. Davis
You don’t have to sacrifice yourself as a person to become an amazing attorney.

You don’t have to sacrifice yourself as a person to become an amazing attorney.

StefaNikolic via GettyImages

Passion is what fuels our industry. Once a boundary has been established (good or bad), it can be difficult to re-establish it. Start with healthy boundaries from the beginning so you don't put your physical and mental health at risk. 

Setting Boundaries with Clients

In the beginning, we tend to give our all to our clients, and I mean ALL—our time, our patience, our empathy, our sympathy, and our passion. When that much of ourselves is given to our clients, what is left over for ourselves, our friends, and our families? Nothing. But, you can stop this by establishing boundaries now.

Non-Emergencies

Your new role as an attorney does not mean you have to answer a call at 9:00 p.m. on a Friday, especially if it is a non-emergency. It can cause anxiety over phone calls and your work will suffer.

TIP: Most offices keep 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours. As a new attorney, you don’t want to stray too far outside those hours. After 5 p.m., courts are closed, and judges are gone. Even if you answered, you wouldn’t be able to accomplish much.

Emergencies

Clients will have an emergency after business hours. Unfortunately, our clients do not understand what an emergency is. As an attorney, you need to know what constitutes an emergency so that midnight calls from clients don’t become the norm.

TIP: If you don't know how to define emergency in this context, then ask superiors, mentors, other attorneys, or professors. Once you get a comfortable definition, then define it in your contract and thoroughly discuss it with clients and enforce penalties for clients that breach.

Reasonable Call-Back Time

The Model Rules of Professional Conduct and your state’s Rules of Professional Conduct will be your floor. However, anything above is what you can control: whether it be 1 hour or 24 hours.

TIP: You are under no ethical obligation to answer immediately nor to call back immediately. You can set a specific time in the day to do callbacks or a window of time after your client leaves a message but being on call interrupts your workflow and can lead to your mind getting off track.

Setting Boundaries with Yourself

Many attorneys are type A personalities, and young attorneys are at a risk to push themselves beyond the breaking point.

Mental Health Days

We tend to see clients on the worst days of their lives, which means you will get the brunt of all the negativity. This coupled with disturbing facts, horrifying pictures, and constant analyzation leads to some of the highest depression, anxiety, and substance abuse rates in the professional workplace.

TIP: Take mental health days and do not ignore fatigue, anxiety, or depression. These are often symptoms of a larger problem like burnout. Mental health days help prevent long-term burnout and help you get in tune with your body and brain.

Let Perfection Go

This will be one of your hardest challenges; however, the sooner you learn that perfection is unrealistic and dangerous, the better and healthier you will be. As type A personalities, perfection is the goal, but what happens when you fail? You end up in a vicious cycle of depression, anxiety, burn out, and perfectionism.

TIP: Learn that giving your best doesn’t mean you will win. You can prepare and double-check your work, but errors can still happen. Learn big lessons from small mistakes; this will help you grow as an attorney.

Even if you have the best mentors and guides, new attorneys have a very steep learning curve. But, you don’t have to sacrifice yourself as a person to become an amazing attorney. If you want to be able to take care of your clients, you have to take care of yourself first. 

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Shannon M. Davis

Shannon M. Davis is the owner and attorney at Davis Legal, in Memphis, Tennessee.