I do not know whether it was the COVID-19 restrictions or continuous working from home or lack of socialising or lack of travel. One thing was clear – I was feeling flat, unmotivated and uninspired a few months ago. For once in my career, working hard did not seem important or even necessary to me.
My coach said, “You have been working very hard for 24 years as a lawyer. That’s a very long time. Isn’t it natural to feel tired? Maybe it is time to rest a little more”. His remark made sense to me.
Feeling tired and needing a break is not only the prerogative of young lawyers. Senior lawyers feel that way too. Many years in law practice does not make us immune to the stress, fatigue, burn out or being in conflict between work and the other responsibilities in life.
Do we manage better as senior lawyers? Truth be told – No. We may have the experience and strength (not to be confused with energy) to learn how to manage and persevere on in practice but we do not always manage well. We have stressors too, such as managing the bottom lines of our business, marketing our practice, not only during economic downturns but at other times as well, managing clients and our younger lawyers.
We also have to devote time to our spouses, children, extended families and even health issues.
For the first time in 18 years since I set up my law firm, I felt that my personal life was more important than my professional life. I started taking it easy. I rested more. The pressure of practice or the worry of the financial growth of the firm during this trying time did not matter, for once. The intentional slowdown was good. I then slowly got back to spending more time at work.
But, something has changed within me permanently.
We are usually concerned about clients in our work. We often do not give due consideration to our own feelings and emotions and how they affect our work. I have, however, started listening to myself more, taking note of how I feel and acknowledging my feelings. If I feel irritated, I give myself time to understand the reason behind it. I know when I feel overwhelmed by work and learn to step away from my laptop or not answer a message or phone call.
I have become kinder to myself. I see a positive change. If I take care of myself, I feel better emotionally which then makes me feel comfortable physically. There is a feeling of lightness and an energetic stride towards everyday life. I start performing better at work, be more present for my clients and my team.
Lawyers see work and life as separate aspects of life. It is difficult to compartmentalise life and professional areas. If we do that, then it becomes stressful and frustrating when career demand so much of our time and energy, away from other responsibilities in life.
I see life and work as one. Both parts must work together and we must acknowledge that we have the capability and capacity to focus on both at the same time.
The challenge for all of us in the legal profession is to find ways to focus on both parts. My message to my legal associates has always been that their career and life must work well at the same time. If their personal life is not working out, they will not be effective family lawyers.
Is it even possible to have work-life integration? My answer is a strong affirmative. We spend a lot of time on our work in the first few years of law practice. After that, we usually learn the tricks of the trade and how to get more done in a shorter period of time. With years of practice, we hone our skills and become better in our work. Whilst we are doing that, we also need to learn how to manage other aspects of life.
I have always enjoyed reading stories of how female lawyers manage work and family. Admittedly, they have more on their plate than male lawyers. Many have shared about having a good support system at home in bringing up the children and supportive employers. It is not easy but many manage both as well as they can.
The other professionals that I am always inspired by are doctors working in the public hospitals. They put in a lot of hours at work, are constantly on their feet, working shifts, weekends and public holidays. I do not think lawyers have it as hard as doctors do.
It is not about the quantity of time we spend on other aspects of life, but rather the quality. It is also about being passionate about work and life, at the same time. Passion is a major driving factor in life. It does not prevent stress or fatigue, but it allows a person to find the drive to keep going on.
Passion is what drove me back to where I needed to be in the practice of law after a few weeks of down-time. Passion is connected with the Why. Why are we practising law? Why does being a lawyer matter to us? These questions have to be asked not just once, but many times at various points in our career.
Senior lawyers also have also a significant role to play in helping younger lawyers excel in both work and life. Creating hybrid work models, entrusting and empowering younger lawyers, allowing them to work at their own pace, giving them the space when they need to handle personal matters and not disturbing them unnecessarily after office hours are some forms of support which can be offered to younger lawyers.
Whilst traditional law practice is undergoing a lot of changes, lawyers need to look at law practice with a different lens, innovate and change the way of practising to suit us individually and for our practice. I am not only talking about legal technology, but about mindful lawyering.
Mindful lawyering will help us find the mental strength to keep on practising law and to inspire the future generations of lawyers.