Lawyers And Leisure: An Oxymoron?

By Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach    

Now really, think about it. How many of us equate the recreation of leisure with the business of being a lawyer? You'd be right if you said very few of us. For most of us, the more common connection is being a workaholic.

So, when the challenge came up to write this article I thought of the lawyers I coach and their approach to leisure.

Leisure is in direct conflict with the business of law, which is based on billable hours. The high requirement of billable hours by most firms is in direct opposition to leisure time. If the average lawyer is required to bill 1800 hours, which is up say 400 hours a year from 20 years ago - where are those additional hours coming from? Since there's only 24 hours in the day for any of us - there's the rub.

Therefore, in order to find time for leisure we have to learn to say "no" to other things that take up our time.

One of my clients, I will identify only as 'D' is on many committees for his firm. That takes up hundreds of non-billable hours a year. Although he increased his billable hours last year by over 400 additional hours his partners did not increase his salary to reflect the unquantifiable benefit he was bringing to the firm. Therefore, D decided to reduce the administration work he does for his firm to give himself free time. It comes down to choices. D loves the committees he works on, but he realizes he needs to choose more wisely how he wants to spend his leisure time. He's decided that non billable, non financially rewarding work is not a good use of his time. He wants to spend his non billable time in a more effective way to help recharge his batteries for the long billable hours of his practice.

When I start to coach my clients I include an exercise that requires them to identify how satisfied they are in eight areas of their life. One of those areas is Fun and Recreation. The questions I ask are: "How satisfied on a scale of 1 to 10 are you with fun and recreation in your life?" "What can you do to increase your satisfaction level with fun and recreation?"

Over the years I've noticed that lawyers:

My experience is that lawyers seem to focus their planned leisure time on taking vacations rather than taking time off during the week. That creates the potential for an unbalanced life style. For my clients who agree with that thinking, the shift has been in making a decision to choose leisure as an ongoing priority. One of my clients is consciously scheduling one day off per month. Because there are so many demands on lawyers for their time - by their clients, their staff, other attorneys, and responsibilities outside the firm - it comes down to how a lawyer chooses to spend their time.

Very often clients who decide to work with me are as dissatisfied with the fun and recreation area as they are with their practice. However, I have noticed that those clients who do come to me with - either an existing high satisfaction level or - a willingness to improve their satisfaction level with fun and recreation - have faster more sustainable improvement in their practice development area. I conclude one thing. Those lawyers who see leisure or fun and recreation as important enough to focus on, obtain their other goals with more success and pleasure.

Both 'A' & 'B' came to me because they did not want their practice development efforts to take time away from their family. They quickly achieved amazing results at work because they focused on what is important to them. What is important included leisure time not just work. They wanted to maintain and improve the fun and recreation area of their life as well as their practice. As a result of having the courage to focus on what is important - B works fewer hours, has more time for himself and his family, and enjoys his clients and work more. Because he values himself and his services more he also enjoys the good fortune of making more money. As a matter of fact, he just got back from a one week vacation and agreed that the next one would be longer.

One way to improve your satisfaction level is to look at fun and recreation with a different perspective. For example: Can you see that some of your clients are fun to work with? What about taking an hour out during a busy day just to do what ever you want?

These concepts are more accessible than you think. If you want to improve some aspect of your practice have a look at fun in your life. What can you do to improve that as well? Make fun and recreation a priority. Consider starting with knowing what is fun for you other than a vacation. Here are a few ways to spend your leisure time:

If you are one of those lawyers who has a hard time creating time for leisure - consider working less and:

It's true. Lawyers who choose to go solo don't have to meet the high billable hours required - and demanded - by other lawyers. In o

ther words, they've chosen to say 'no' to working with others so they could say 'yes' to more freedom.

Stefani Quane says "In order to have great leisure time, you have to take control over your schedule and make room for leisure. Some lawyers have found that being a solo practitioner is the best way to gain the flexibility over their time to ensure quality leisure time. If solo practice seems intriguing to you, you might want to attend the June 20th, solo and small firm practice CLE put on by the King County Bar Association."

Here are other questions I pose to my clients - and to you reading this:

As each one of us takes a stand for leisure in our practice it makes it easier and easier to enjoy our practice more. I challenge you to find your way.

By Irene Leonard, lawyer and professional business coach. Irene is the author of Create the Practice You Want: Law Practice Development Workbook. For more information visit her web site or call at (206) 723 9900.