Around the globe, the day-to-day life of an attorney, including when attorneys work and how attorneys work, varies across borders. Here, global attorney leaders within the American Bar Association International Law Section (ILS) shine a light on what work, life, and their recipe for work-life balance looks like internationally.
(South America, Solo Practitioner/Small-Size Law Firm)
Starting in South America, an attorney’s daily work schedule can be “9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., if not longer,” according to Cecilia Barrero, immediate past cochair of the Lawyers Abroad Committee. Before becoming the managing partner of her company in Boston, Barrero worked for several law firms in different Latin American countries, including in her home of Argentina. Now, Barrero actively manages an international team of members while assisting clients in Central America, Argentina, Panama, and the Dominican Republic.
“Being one’s own boss or an employee at a law firm does not change the fact that the day-to-day life of a lawyer is stressful and time-consuming,” says Barrero. “More traditional countries tend to have stricter workplace schedules, whereas more liberal ones tend to leave time management up to the working professionals themselves.” As far as how her Latin American experiences have influenced her recipe for achieving work-life balance: “Both parties, employer and employee, need to reach agreements on how to best use the time invested in work in the most productive way. That way, an employee’s time is not always consumed by work,” instructs Barrero. “Some of my clients are international law firms who have implemented wellness initiatives such as yoga, mindfulness sessions, and sporting activities,” suggests Barrero.
Rooted in Rest
(Europe, Midsize Law Firm)
Moving across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe, Valeria Camboni Miller, cochair of the ILS Europe Committee, provides insight from her distinguished and well-renowned multigenerational lineage in Italy’s legal profession. Camboni Miller grew up in Italy, where her father was a well-respected solo practitioner for 50 years, and her grandfather was the Chief Justice of the Corte di Cassazione, Italy’s highest court. “My father used to go into court during the mornings, come home for lunch, and then open up the office at 5:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m.,” says Camboni Miller. “After lunch, he usually laid down for a couple of hours to rest, as it is customary in Italy to rest after lunch. Then, he spent time with us children playing or helping with homework,” continues Camboni Miller. “Having a home office separated by only a door from the rest of the house gave my dad the opportunity to be present as a parent while also providing legal services to clients,” she adds.
Having now moved to the United States, “as a lawyer now myself, my day is busy, as like many other attorneys,” she says. Between working 40 hours per week, being a leader within the ABA, volunteering at a local family law clinic, and writing for several legal publications, Camboni Miller admits that she struggles with avoiding lawyer burnout at times. Therefore, drawing influence from her father and grandfather in Italy, Camboni Miller’s recipe for balance is rooted in rest. “For me, personally, work-life balance is a state of mind. Maybe, take time off even if you do not leave town for a vacation, or start an exercise program to release some of the work-related stress. Take time off, even if it means not traveling,” advises Camboni Miller.
Something You Love That Has Nothing to Do with Work
(Middle East, Law Professor)
Heading east to Kuwait, Dr. Fatemah Albader, a vice chair of the Middle East Committee, details her life as an associate professor of international law at Kuwait International Law School. “I am currently teaching five courses this semester, which equals a 15-hour course load. On my current schedule, I teach five days a week, excluding Fridays and Saturdays,” says Albader. “I am off the entire month of January and am off for one month during the summer because I am teaching courses. For those who do not teach in the summer, they get three months off,” states Albader. “In addition, we are also off for the two Eid holidays, National Day/Independence Day, Prophet’s Birthday, and so on,” adds Albader.
“Wellness initiatives do happen at the law school, but it means something different in Kuwait. For us, we have events that we celebrate year-round. We gather together and just relax,” says Albader. “We have a faculty lounge to relax in that is equipped with coffee and tea. We have restaurants on campus. We now also have a gym, swimming pool, etc., on campus. We also all have our own offices, so we get to relax and have our breaks in there as well,” informs Albader. As far as her work-life balance recipe is concerned: “I think it is a matter of not over-stressing yourself and not taking on more tasks than you can handle. It is also a matter of having activities that you engage in outside of work or law school . . . . Doing something that you love that has nothing to do with work is really important to be refreshed and able to return to work and give it your all again,” instructs Albader.
Engaging in What Gives You Joy
(Africa, Academia and Dispute Resolution)
Crossing the waters and sands to Nigeria, Banke Olagbegi-Oloba, a vice chair of the Africa Committee, is a well-known law lecturer and dispute resolution practitioner with cross-border experience practicing in Dubai, South Africa, and the United States. Now, Olagbegi-Oloba is also an academic scholar in California. “In my experience, the day-to-day life of an attorney is a very busy one. We spend most of our time trying to find solutions to other people’s problems. However, in the process, most lawyers forget to take care of themselves. Demands and expectations are high to the extent that it is very difficult for quite a number of lawyers to strike a good balance. Especially young lawyers and female lawyers who are married with children,” observes Olagbegi-Oloba.
“Based on my experience…just a few law firms/organizations/employers have taken the bold step to implement wellness initiatives for attorneys who work with or for them. Most of them, in my opinion, are yet to prioritize attorneys’ well-being,” finds Olagbegi-Oloba. However, “I am currently in academia and also practice arbitration and mediation, so I love my job, and I love my work schedules,” she explains.
When asked to provide her recipe for work-life balance, according to Olagbegi-Oloba: “For employees, work-life balance and wellness can be improved by always engaging in what gives you joy, peace, and professional fulfillment. Find yourself, figure out the kind of practice you love, and work in your dream firm or workplace. Know how and when to leave a job that is not giving you your desired satisfaction. Don’t die or suffer in silence,” preaches Olagbegi-Oloba. “From the perspective of an employer, it is important to understand that your business will thrive more if your employees are happy, satisfied, and fulfilled. Create an enabling environment, offer a good remuneration/salary scale, provide opportunities such as vacation, career development, and mentoring, genuinely appreciate your employees that are doing well, and correct with love whenever the need arises. The profession by design is very stressful, therefore, it will be great if legal practitioners can be more accommodating, kind, and supportive to one another,” concludes Olagbegi-Oloba.
Create a “Cookbook” of Work-Life Balance Recipes
True balance may not be attainable, but these perspectives acknowledge that we can likely be even more successful if we work less and work on caring for ourselves. If you are still searching for your secret work-life ingredient, hopefully you can take away a tip for improvement from these international ABA leaders.
You can take control of your schedule and manage time, communicate with superiors, and focus on productivity, like Cecilia Barrero from Latin America. You can embrace a European spirit of getting adequate rest and putting your family first while faithfully serving your clients, inspired by Valeria Camboni Miller, her father, and her grandfather from Italy. You can adopt a Middle Eastern mindset of working hard while relaxing, taking advantage of wellness opportunities, and taking time to recuperate, as done by Dr. Fatemah Albader in Kuwait. Or you can be unafraid to speak up and speak out when work and life are difficult and recognize that prioritizing well-being in the workplace is a dual effort for both employees and employers, as highlighted by Banke Olagbegi-Oloba from Nigeria.
Altogether, whether you are experiencing lawyer burnout, or are just a little off-balance, remember that there are many recipes for work-life balance, but many more ways to improve it continually.