YourABA July 2011 Masthead

Staying connected to friends and family, not necessarily your PDA, helps keep stress at bay

How do lawyers achieve balance between successful, fulfilling careers and their personal lives? This question has become increasingly more difficult to answer given the economic downturn and technological advances that are changing the legal environment.  These changes and their associated strain make the need for efficient stress and life-work management even more relevant to the profession. At the ABA Meeting in Toronto, experts participating in the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section program, “Successful Lawyers Manage Stress,” offered ways lawyers can navigate their evolving environment to best enhance their careers while still maintaining their personal lives.

The following five tips were presented by panelists:

Remember who you are: In order to minimize stress you need to remember who you are. “If you don’t stay true to your values, it’s like walking around with a stone in your shoe,” said stress management coach Julie Jansen. “It’s very uncomfortable.”

It is also important to remember that it is okay to operate differently than other people. “What works for some people doesn’t always work for me,” said Jack Criswell, a lawyer in Birmingham, Ala. “You need to figure out what works for you,” he added.

Don’t demonize the other side: “The legal profession is an adversarial one,” said Jansen. Although it might be difficult not to do so, lawyers should try to separate their desire to win the case from their feelings of the other individuals involved. Constantly demonizing the opposing side leads to unnecessary, constant stress in your life.

Stay connected with friends and family: “Work is important, but having a life is more important,” said Bridgette Tillman, a Department of Justice lawyer. “Friends and family … help complete who we are as people,” she continued. Although it might be difficult to set aside time to enjoy these relationships, Criswell recommended putting important dates on one’s business calendar well in advance. “If you manage your schedule around those dates, you might actually be able to take part in those events,” he added.

Manage your clients: Take a direct approach with your clients and have a discussion in advance as to limitations of when and where they can contact you, particularly late at night and on weekends. If clients are particularly difficult, Jansen recommends you reiterate your boundaries. “Difficult people are rarely motivated to act differently,” said Jansen. “You need to be the one to change your behavior and try to motivate them to change.”

Monitor the role of technology: Although there are countless benefits from the boom of technology, it has drastically altered the way lawyers practice and their clients’ expectations. By tethering attorneys to their jobs 24/7, technology can compound work stress. “You need to watch the role of technology in your life,” said Criswell. “Be careful of it.”

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