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What Does "Work-Life Balance" Mean to You?

samgloversamglover Minneapolis, MN Admin
edited November 2013 in Starting a Law Firm

Jordan Rushie posted a heartbreaking story on Philly Law Blog today. I don't want to spoil it by posting an excerpt here, so go read it, and then come back.

Go ahead, really. It's really worth two minutes of your day. This discussion thread will still be here when you get back.

As Jordan pointed out in the comments, the moral of the story is not "don’t work hard, because if you do, you will have a terrible family life." Nor was Jordan admiring the lawyer for his dedication after his wife passed away, as Mirriam Sediq seems to have concluded. He works because work takes up the mental space he would otherwise spend grieving. The story is heartbreaking, and the moral — if you can even reduce Jordan's post to a single moral — is complex.

But it boils down to this: You want to be a good lawyer, and a successful lawyer, but you don't want to be that guy. When we talk about work-life balance, what we're talking about is not being that guy. What we hope is that there is a way to be dedicated to our clients and to our families and hobbies and other things we care about.

Balance sometimes feels unattainable. This is not just a lawyer thing, but practicing law, especially as a solo or in a small firm, is stressful in a way that few other things are stressful. It's often really really hard to mentally check out of your law practice and check in to your family life for the evening, or the weekend. I didn't really ever stop working when I practiced law full time. I don't really stop working now that Lawyerist is my day job, either.

But it is critical to find ways to check out of work.

I do it by trying to remember to leave my iPhone on my desk when I come home after picking up my daughters from daycare. Inevitably I need it for something family-related (ordering diapers, or checking our shared calendar), and it finds its way back into my pocket. And then I am checking my email when I think my wife isn't looking. So I feel guilty, and put the phone back on my desk for a while.

I also try to follow Getting Things Done, because it helps me to know there aren't any to-do items I need to keep track of in my head. I know that I can sit down and pick up right where I left off. Except that the nagging feeling that there's something I really need to be working on never really goes away. So I am sometimes distracted, but I try to keep reminding myself that everything is in my trusted system and I don't have to think about it.

So I definitely don't have work-life balance all figured out, but to me, it means trying really hard to be present for my family even though I work all the time. Because I don't want to become Jordan's friend, who gave up his present for a future that, tragically, never came.


  • Cameron ParkhurstCameron Parkhurst Minneapolis, MN

    For me work-life balance means no longer being a trial lawyer. It means trading hours working and income for time with my family whenever I want it. Although as Sam points out, when you are a solo or small firm lawyer it can be hard to truly ever get away or set aside the practice. I have to be intentional about not taking my cell phone everywhere and accepting of the fact that the work on my desk will be there tomorrow anyway, so a few hours with my family or doing something else really is not that big of a deal in the long run.

  • thedanshermanthedansherman Maple Plain, MN
    edited November 2013

    I know a really smart attorney (former general counsel to a Fortune 100 company) who had a great view on work-life balance.

    He compared life to tires. When you get your tires balanced, the mechanic doesn't shave material from the side that's too heavy. He adds weight to the side that's too light.

    The correlation is that if you feel like work is pulling you too hard, add more things at home (or church, or school, etc.). You won't be less busy, but you'll be balanced, and that is what feels good.

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