Work-Life Balance in a Law Firm
In honor of World Health Day on April 7th, we would like to bring attention to work-life balance within the practice of law. The term work-life balance simply refers to the synergy between employment and all other commitments in life, such as family, friends, fitness, and social activities, with an effort to attain as much balance between these elements as possible. Working long hours for long periods of time is crucial for meeting targets, cementing client relationships and impressing your principals - or is it? The truth to work life balance is quite the opposite. Long hours can lead to burnout, so if longevity and success is what you’re after, work smarter, not longer.
The model work-life equation is unique to every lawyer. Contrary to many lawyers’ work ethics, burning the candle at both ends does not aid in achieving balance. Working long hours for long periods of time is difficult to sustain and it eventually becomes impossible to produce quality work. The negative impact of a lack of balance is inevitable and can have dire consequences.
Mental health problems impact many professions and are known to be rife within the legal profession. In a line of work where more hours and more work equals more prestige, many lawyers work around the clock. Long hours cannot always be avoided but when it becomes the norm, problems can arise in all other aspects of a lawyer’s life. About 70% of American workers feel disengaged, which is a major symptom of burnout. Other psychological symptoms of burnout may include: panic attacks, anger, irritability, helplessness, and a general loss of enjoyment.¹ Undoubtedly, burnout is a huge problem.
Many firms are beginning to accept that the employees who are the most productive are usually the ones who take regular, reasonable breaks from work. Furthermore, firms are becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of overworked and burnt out lawyers and some law firms are now implementing options designed to help attain a better balance of work and life. They are calling these options “alternative work arrangements”. With the recent introduction of the Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation’s Psychological Wellbeing Best Practice Guidelines for the legal profession, greater emphasis is now being placed on the importance of finding a better work-life balance.²
Some solutions that can help a lawyer achieve a better work-life balance include: disconnecting from technology, learning how to say “no”, taking vacation days, and committing to healthy habits.³ We know that law is a demanding profession that requires significant time and attention but spending time trying to achieve a better work-life balance can pay off with greater productivity, satisfaction and happiness in the long term.
While the definition of work-life balance varies between each individual and standards vary between firms and practices, it is important to keep it an ongoing priority. In addition to the shift towards mental health awareness at the workplace, many law firms are moving away from unhealthy work models in hopes of preventing burnout.
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