Work-Life Balance for Lawyers: Is it a Myth?

By Steve Fretzin

 

Is it just me or are we hearing about work-life balance a lot these days? It seems everyone wants it, which makes sense, but is it realistic in today’s hustle and bustle world? Let’s find out and discuss some strategies to help achieve this seemingly unachievable milestone. These days, I’m not working much in the evenings or weekends. I take multiple trips each year and have a lot of flexibility in my schedule to take off mornings or afternoons. Has it always been like this? HELL, NO! When I started my business development coaching business in 2004, I was working ALL THE TIME. I needed to be more organized, scrambling around with piles of paper and business cards all over the place. On top of that, I could have won a networking competition, attending events most mornings and evenings. The final pièce de résistance was my ongoing obligation to extended family which took up weekends. Sound familiar?

 

So how did I make this thing called “work-life balance” happen? Here are three absolutely critical things that changed the course of my life and that of my clients, both for the better. My hope is that you can follow suit to get every drop out of your life that you can, versus feeling like a hamster running endlessly on a wheel.

 

Tip #1. Become a time management assassin.

 

People who knew me back in the day would tell you that I was a feather in the wind. Meaning, that keeping focus wasn’t my thing. I had a messy bedroom as a child and that translated to a minefield of an office as an adult. When someone recommended the book, “Getting Things Done,” by David Allen, I wasn’t surprised. I knew firsthand how this disorganization was not only affecting my efficiency but frustrating me on a daily basis. Finding an email, a copy of a contract or a business card from the week before might take me hours to locate.

 

While the book offers hundreds of practical ways to gain control of one’s time, there were two elements that had an immediate impact on me. The first was doing “The Purge.” No, not the movie but rather the first step to getting organized. Like when trying to lose weight, you need to clean up and remove all the fatty foods from your house. In this case, it was placing all my messes in one big pile. My pile was four feet high and three feet around. It was super intimidating to observe. But, with the help of my assistant (and a label maker), over a six-hour period of focused time, we had filed away or thrown out everything in that fat stack. At the moment of completion, I felt the weight of that disorganization roll off my shoulders.

 

The second part was following David’s Four D’s methodology for dealing with everything that falls into my brain. This includes calls, emails, texts, mail, and really anything that I have to deal with on any given day. Essentially, you must place all input into one of four categories which are DO IT, DEFER IT, DELEGATE IT or DROP IT. The basic definitions for each are:

 

Do it. This means anything that comes across your mind or desk that you can execute in under two minutes, just knock it out.

Defer it. Don’t keep interrupting your flow by handling tasks ad hoc all day. Prioritize and schedule projects throughout the day. This way, instead of the day having you, you have the day.

Delegate it. Lawyers are notorious for saying, “It’s easier if I just do this myself.” STOP IT! You’re being paid top dollar for your time, so quit doing menial tasks that someone else can do for $20-100 an hour.

Drop it. What are you doing that should NOT be done during the week? You should be billing hours, managing subordinates and growing your law practice. Surfing the web and scheduling haircuts are not workday material.

 

If you’re serious about gaining back your time and owning your future, go pick up a copy of GTD (Getting Things Done) today. Like right now.

 

Tip #2. Make saying “no” your jam.

 

As you saw above, one of the tenets of GTD is to “drop it.” This leads me straight into my second lesson in work-life balance and that’s saying, “No.” Look, I don’t know your exact position, role or situation as you’re reading this, but take out of tip #2 what you can. We MUST protect our time with the same rigor that we would protect our family from a home intruder. In business and in life, time is our most precious asset, yet too often we say yes to most people and things without thinking about the repercussions on our time. While I’m not suggesting you don’t have to work hard or earn your stripes, be hyper-critical of how you invest your time to get the most return.

 

When someone asks you to do something, take a few minutes or a day to really analyze the pros and cons of that investment. Will it bring you happiness, wealth, new relationships or further your career? Most things we are asked to do don’t fall into those buckets, so be nice and follow my guidance to softly and confidently reject the task whenever possible. Simply say, “I so appreciate you asking and including me in this amazing opportunity. Unfortunately, I have a policy that if I can’t provide my full attention, it’s not fair to others for me to say yes. Thank you, though, for thinking of me.” Obviously, you can wordsmith this for you and your personality, but you get the point. Having and sharing a policy is one of the best ways to exit an offer or situation that doesn’t support your key initiatives.

 

Tip #3. BE THAT LAWYER and make it rain.

 

I’m sure this won’t surprise you to hear, but rainmakers have the best lives. At least the smart ones do. I say this because I create rainmakers every year and they focus on bringing in the work more than simply grinding away in the trenches. If you think about the business of law for a moment, all of this will make sense. You are selling legal services at a premium price. If you hand off that work to an associate or paralegal so you can go find more legal work, your return on investment of that time is being maximized. The math is simple. Do 10 hours of work at $500 an hour, or $5,000 dollars. Or use those 10 hours to get $50,000 of business into the firm. Now rinse and repeat to see what your value is to the firm now.

 

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t do your job, but rather that you should only do the work you truly enjoy and that is super high level. Most lawyers don’t get to make this choice, but most rainmakers do. I’m not going to sugarcoat this for you and tell you how easy it is to make this transition. Rather, I’ll be honest and tell you it’s damn hard! However, something that may take five or 10 years to accomplish can be shortened significantly if you focus on learning the craft of business development. Let me be clear, it is a learned skill that even the most introverted and uncomfortable lawyers can accomplish. As you probably know, there are books, articles, podcasts and videos that will help you, not to mention the hundreds of lawyer coaches who are waiting for your call. It’s all about you making a decision. “Do I want to be a rainmaker or not?” It’s on you and you alone.

 

When thinking more clearly about work-life balance, it’s a certainty that you’ll have to pay your dues to obtain it. Learning time management, how to effectively say “no” and gaining skills in business development aren’t easy. Most of the lawyers I interview daily about coaching are at some inflection point where doing the same thing year after year isn’t creating the happiness and satisfaction that we all as humans desire. Remember, the decisions you make now to protect your time directly affect the future of you.

 

For more information about FRETZIN, Inc. go to www.fretzin.com or to meet with me to discuss your work-life balance or lack of it, please email me at [email protected].

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