Coming off a successful year when some firms even saw record-setting revenues and profits, many Biglaw associates are now the busiest they have been in recent memory. While this uptick in work may initially be a welcome relief for some, in the long run associates often find themselves struggling to balance an increased workload with life outside the firm.
Despite what you may have heard, work-life balance isn’t just a program for new mothers. Sure, many law firms aim their work-life policies – like parental leave, reduced hours schedules, and flexible working arrangements – at parents. But the fact is that everyone needs to balance work and life, regardless of whether or not you have kids and whether or not you work at a firm that promotes work-life balance, if you plan to make a career out of Biglaw while staying relatively happy and sane.
For this article, we collaborated with Biglaw associates to provide seven practical tips for helping you to achieve a work-life balance in your daily schedule. The first set of tips is aimed at managing your work to help free up time for your personal life, while the next set is focused on how to maintain your personal life. Of course, these tips come with the caveat that the nature of Biglaw means that at times the “life” portion of the equation is entirely non-existent. For example, if you are at trial or closing a deal, you’ll be expected to work around the clock. But eventually your trial will end or you will complete your deal, and you will have the opportunity to regain some semblance of a life. These tips are geared toward helping you do that.
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Tips For Managing Your Work
1. Take control of the calendar. Rather than letting others dictate your schedule, make work more predictable for yourself by understanding and keeping track of the deadlines in your cases or deals. Know who is working on what, what tasks still need to be completed and when they are due. Take the initiative to volunteer for tasks early on to help minimize last minute fire drills. And remember to build a cushion into your schedule. For instance, if you need to draft a motion, set aside a few extra days to account for those unexpected and urgent day-to-day issues that may come up, such as responding to letters from opposing counsel or client phone calls.
2. Keep your teams in the loop. Let your partners know early (and remind them again later) when you will need to be out of the office or have other commitments on another case or deal. Put it on their calendars so you are less likely to get slammed with work all at once, or be put in the uncomfortable position of turning down work.
3. Understand your partners and your tasks. Find out how your partners work, what work product they want, and what format they like it in. If your partner prefers short, succinct memos in a particular font with three copies of all case law support in a tabbed and indexed spiral bound binder, you will save time by getting it right on the first try. Also, make sure you clearly understand your tasks before you get started. If your partner or senior associate asks you a research question for a letter brief that is due the next day, find out whether he or she just expects a quick email write up or a print out of a relevant case, before you spend all night writing a formal memo that he or she may never read.
4. Delegate. Involve and use your assistants, paralegals, and junior associates early on and often. Assistants and paralegals typically can do some things much faster and/or better than you can. Be sure to establish a system or routine with those working for you so they know exactly what to do without you having to spend a lot of time bringing them up to speed.
Tips For Maintaining Your Personal Life
1. Protect the important times of your day and the important events in your life. Take stock of what time of the day matters most to you, and then be committed to putting down your work and turning off your BlackBerry every day at that time. For example, maybe you need to go to bed at a decent hour in order to properly function the next day. Or if you’re a parent, it could be spending an uninterrupted hour with your children before they go to bed.
Whatever you choose, set boundaries that are reasonable and predictable, and communicate them to your team. Additionally, you will want to demonstrate that outside of your protected time, you are working hard and efficiently. In doing so, your team will likely be understanding and respectful of the times you designate as off limits.
Similarly, pick and choose the significant life events that are worth taking time off of work. Give the attorneys you work for as much advance notice as possible, and remind them again before you leave. If you know you won’t be able to complete your projects beforehand, make sure you arrange for someone to handle them in your absence. Finally, while you’re away from work, resist the urge to check your BlackBerry.
If work simply doesn’t permit you to be available for an important event, try to be flexible. For example, if a case requires you to be across the country for two weeks during your anniversary, see if you can fly your spouse out to where you are for the weekend so that you can spend some time together.
2. Work remotely as much as your partner allows. That way, you can increase your time with your family, or just get some much-needed time away from the office. You don’t need to be put on an official flex-time work arrangement, or work at a firm where face time isn’t mandatory, to be able to work remotely. The determining factor is the preference of the partner you work for. Some partners are barely in the office themselves and/or prefer to communicate via email or phone, in which case leaving the office at 6 p.m. on some days or even working from home occasionally shouldn’t be a problem. But if your partner is notorious for dropping by your office unannounced, then be sure to clear your plans to work remotely ahead of time with your partner. Just make sure you that when you say you are working remotely that you really are working and being responsive to phone calls and emails. Be careful not to use “working remotely” as a smokescreen for taking time off.
3. Use your technology to stay connected with family and friends. With all the different ways to video chat these days, your loved ones can feel like they’re around even when they aren’t. So splurge on the latest technology if you frequently travel for work or work late at the office.