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How Do You Achieve Balance

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The pressure to be client focussed, or to deliver legal services in tight timeframes means lawyers work long and unpredictable hours affecting home time. It is your responsibility to manage your career and life, and to draw the line if enough is enough.

A lawyer I know recently left her position because she was working consistently long and unsustainable hours.  It was impacting her home life; her hobbies had faded away and her health was being affected.  She had become disillusioned with her firm, despite this firm promoting its work life philosophy extensively.  She felt it “talked the talk but didn’t walk the walk”.

This is not an uncommon story in the legal world, but something struck me about this case. The lawyer in question hadn’t bothered to talk to the firm about how she felt before resigning. Her firm does have a good work life balance philosophy and could have worked through her issues. If a conversation had been had earlier on, the outcome may have been different. The trust was lost.

The pressure to be client focussed, or to deliver legal services in tight timeframes means lawyers work long and unpredictable hours affecting home time. Technology has blurred the line between work and personal life: it’s difficult to truly relax when the buzz of one’ smartphone may signal the arrival of an urgent email, or a looming client crisis.  Lawyers who are not willing to “be there until the job is done” are often considered uncommitted. Even if this attitude is not explicit, promotional prospects can be affected.

My issue with this high pressure attitude is that we all need time out; to relax, to be involved in the lives of our family and friends, to have hobbies and interests – that is, to have a multidimensional life. Excelling in your job should not require losing yourself to it.

Personally, I try to keep my sanity through exercise. I’m not talking about a Michelle Bridges style fitness regime, but when it all gets too much I stop what I am doing and go for a walk. It helps to refocus, to keep your mind calm and controlled.

I did not take regular holidays in my early professional life, and I deeply regret this. What I used to view as a source of stress – worrying about what I had left behind, what I would forget – I now see as crucial to my health and wellbeing. Time away from work, wherever it can be found, is essential to working productively in a demanding job

The best firms work to address the problem by supporting lawyers to achieve a balance.  They create a culture which supports staff needs and trusts employees when they do work flexibly. Long, unsustainable hours affect health, absenteeism and productivity. 

Lawyers, however, also have a responsibility to achieve the right balance between work and home.  They need to manage their time, speak up and take action. The onus is on your employer to create a culture and environment that supports and encourages work/life balance if they wish to retain you.  But, it is your responsibility to manage your career and life, and to draw the line if enough is enough.

Lisa Gazis

Managing Director  

Mahlab (NSW).

Lisa manages Mahlab’s NSW operations and conducts senior corporate and partner level search and recruitment campaigns. She provides strategic consulting services to corporations and law firms in Australia and abroad.

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