Whose Life Is It Anyway?
At Lifestyles4Lawyers, we promote a healthy work-life balance. But what does work-life balance actually mean? Are we proposing that lawyers should stop working at 5.30pm weekdays and never work beyond set hours? No, of course not.
As people who have worked in the legal industry, we at Lifestyles4Lawyers know that it is not possible to make that commitment, particularly if you are ambitious and want to climb the corporate ladder.
There is also an appreciation that, when a lawyer takes a job at a firm, 9-5 is not always on the cards, particularly at a magic circle firm. The biggest deals require the longest hours in sometimes the shortest timeframes and under huge pressure, so the idea that these transactions can be done within set hours just doesn’t meet with reality.
One person’s definition of work-life balance is not necessarily the same as someone else’s. That’s because it is a personal choice, a decision each of us makes every time we take a career step, whether that is choosing the type of firm we would like to do our training contracts with, or when we choose to move firms, for whatever reasons there might be. Lifestyles4Lawyers provide regular tips on job hunting and the latest Legal Jobs, as part of our free service.
No matter how you want to define it, it is important to make sure you know what you want from work and play. Here are some pointers that might help you along the way:
1. Decide what you want from your career and personal life:
Career decisions are some of the toughest you will make, primarily because they will impact on every other aspect of your life. Very few jobs pay well for doing very little, so it’s important that you have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to achieve because that will determine the firms that you apply to and the working hours you will most likely have to put in.
2. Talk to your family and friends:
The decisions that you make don’t only affect you, they affect your relationships. As determined as you might be to make partnership in five years, that choice comes with consequences and it’s important that the people who know and care for you at least know about your plan, even if you don’t want their opinion. And be sure that your life partner is aware and supportive of your career choice because they deserve to know your plans and have a say in them.
3. Diarise time for things outside of work:
Keep a diary and plan your week. Make sure you schedule time with your family and friends, and activities that help you recharge.
If you have activities scheduled in your diary, you are more likely to manage your time and workload so that you don’t have to cancel. There is nothing worse than having to cancel on people, so if you know you have to be somewhere, it’s surprising how focused you stay during work time.
And when you do go out, put the phone away. You’ve earned that time out and there’s nothing you can do about that email anyway, so why let it ruin your downtime?
4. Priorities change:
Over time, your priorities may well change. Marriage and children are the most common cause, but there could be many reasons to change your career path, including your health and wellbeing. Don’t make rushed decisions; take as much time as you need to think through your needs and wants and how they might impact on your life. Talk to your family and friends, even if it’s just to get things out in the open, because it will help with your decision-making process. Then, when you’re ready, put that decision into action with confidence and self-belief.
5. Don’t do errands someone else can do:
This is one of our favourite tips over at Lifestyles4Lawyers. If ironing your work clothes takes you three hours and they look no better than when they came out of the washing machine, why not take them to the dry cleaners and get them professionally done, so you can spend that time elsewhere? Why go food shopping, when you can do it online and have it delivered to your home, so you can be off catching up with friends? Don’t want to clean your car or spend time in a queue at the hand car wash? There are plenty of car cleaners that will come to your house.
The list is endless because different errands are important to different people, but the point is that if it feels like a chore and you would rather be doing something you enjoy, then it is worth spending the money to get it done for you. Your time is precious and you should spend it doing the things you enjoy. Now, if you enjoy doing the chores – perhaps it is therapeutic – think about the things you don’t enjoy doing and whether they can be done by someone else.
Lifestyles4Lawyers recently commissioned a survey of members and contacts from throughout the professional industries and we asked them for their definition of work-life balance and whether they thought they had the balance right. We received many responses and, although many of them touched on the issue of time with children, no two were the same. Here is a selection of what we were told:
‘It’s not working at the weekends. Everything else is fair game.’
‘Seeing my children through the week’
‘Getting out of bed without feeling sick at the thought of what lies ahead during the day’
‘As business owners, our work life balance is, while we often feel we don’t switch off, we can be in the environments and locations that we choose, not those of an employer.’
‘Work is part of my life and a hugely important part of what I do and who I am, so for me it is about having a balanced life and committing the appropriate time to the appropriate activities. Family will always be the most important thing to me but there are times when other things may need to take priority.’
‘The autonomy to flex, to both professional and personal demands and one not unfairly limiting the other.’
‘If you really enjoy what you do there is no defined line between ‘life’ and ‘work’. To me the balance is between family time and non-family time.’