Life Balance for Lawyers

Presented by Irene Leonard, Lawyer Coach, to the Washington Chapter of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys™ April 2006

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In the high-speed world of schedules, commitments, stress, and demands on time and energy, balance seems elusive. Balance is comparing the needs and wants of your professional life and your personal and family life and making decisions as to how to juggle competing interests. Balance is not a static place, it is dynamic, as the balance point is always changing. The good news is that the balance you achieve in your practice is up to you.

Some days, weeks, or even months you can accept the high pace necessary to serve your client, but then you need to carve out a slower less frenetic pace in order to maintain a balance so that you have the energy to sustain yourself and avoid "burnout". Along that path to achieving balance it is important to remember that balance is personal; what might be a balanced practice to you is likely to be completely different from the lawyer in the next office.

Balance requires consistent and conscious thought about the choices or decisions you are making at any given time. When you say yes to something what are you saying no to? And vise versa? Being in balance requires that your actions be in alignment with your choices.

Here are 10 steps to help you achieve balance in your life.

  1. Complete a self-assessment. This will take time to examine where you are, but it is a most important first step. What are your strengths and weaknesses in balancing your practice with your life? See Exhibit A, the Balance Wheel, to help with your assessment.
  2. Come up with a life plan. What do you want? Design your plan to comply with your personality and operating style. See Exhibit B, for Envision Your Balanced Life exercises.
  3. Establish clear goals and write them down. Make sure they are specific, realistic, measurable and timely. Include a financial goal that will reduce your dependency on a large income so you can broaden your life balance possibilities.
  4. Identify and live in alignment with your values. See Exhibit C for a values determination exercise.
  5. Identify your priorities. See Exhibit D for a Yes/No exercise.
  6. Learn and practice time management skills. See Exhibit E.
  7. Determine what will motivate you to implement behavioral changes. Identify what will stop you from achieving balance. Make a commitment to yourself to make the necessary changes in your actions to achieve the balanced life you designed. See Exhibit F for structures to help you.
  8. Implement a healthy lifestyle. Maintain a healthy diet, get regular exercise, take personal and reflective time.
  9. Give yourself time to practice your new behaviors.
  10. Don't let slip ups throw you off course; notice you've faltered and return to your new behaviors.

Exhibit A

Balance Wheel

Balance Wheel

Seeing the center of the wheel as 0 and the outer edge as 10, rank your level of satisfaction with each area by drawing a curved line to create a new outer edge. Give each pie slice the applicable number value as well. The new perimeter of the circle represents your Balance Wheel. What do you need to do to improve your satisfaction level with each area?


Dated ____________________________, 2006.

Exhibit B

Envision Your Balanced Life

Use the following to help you envision the life you want:

Exhibit C

Values Determination

For each value listed below, circle the number or star that best reflects the relative importance of that value to you. The numbers have the corresponding meanings:

* A core value - you know this to be absolutely true for you
1. Extremely Important
2. Very Important
3. Important
4. Not Important

Cheerfulness *1234
Common Sense*1234
Contribution *1234
Cooperation *1234
Courage *1234
Courtesy *1234
Creativity *1234
Dependability *1234
Determination *1234
Discipline *1234
Diversity *1234
Excitement *1234
Personal Development*1234

2. List the values you identified as your core values:                                    #


Now ask yourself on a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being the highest, how in alignment in your practice or life are you with each value? Note that number in the # column. What does this tell you?

Exhibit D

Yes/No Exercise

Are you able to say no?

Your ability to say no is an important component of your practice and life balance equation. It determines how much of your time will be spent doing things you don't want or have the time to do.

How easily you say no is a matter of your personality rather than knowledge of time management skills. The ability to say no is not about being mean and aggressive. Instead, it is about being assertive. Learning to say no is one of the most difficult skills to learn especially for lawyers dedicated to their clients. However, it is the one of the most valuable because it helps bring you to choice in your life.

Reasons you need to learn to say no include:

Examples of Saying No

Say yes only if your goals will be met by doing the thing you just said yes to. Say no as early as possible.

Complete the following exercise to help you notice that when you say yes to something you are saying to something else. Design your practice in such a way that you always know the consequences of a yes or no answer.

Examples of saying yes and no include:

Saying Yes --- Saying No

By saying YES to:I am saying NO to:

1. ______________________________


2. ______________________________ ______________________________

3. ______________________________ ______________________________

4. ______________________________ ______________________________


By saying NO to:

I am saying YES to:

1. ______________________________


2. ______________________________ ______________________________

3. ______________________________ ______________________________

4. ______________________________ ______________________________


Exhibit E

20 Time Management Tips

  1. Take time to prepare and review your personalized time management plan.

  2. Set SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Rewarding, and Timely) goals. A goal could include tracking all your time, even non-billable time, for a week in order to learn how you spend the time in your day.

  3. Identify your priorities. Apply the 80/20 rule. Every time you say yes to something you are saying no to something else. Make sure you choose your actions. See Exhibit D.

  4. Learn to say no. See Exhibit D.

  5. Learn how to minimize interruptions. See Exhibit D on how to say no.

  6. Plan for the unexpected. Do not overbook yourself. Create space in your calendar for all the last minute matters that show up in your practice.

  7. Learn the skill of delegation. This includes training those you delegate to to meet your standards.

  8. Delegate everything that someone else can do.

  9. Take time to get organized. This includes cleaning the piles of paper from your office floor.

  10. Use 'To Do' Lists. 'To Do' lists are essential to an efficient use of your time and a way to reduce stress in your practice. 'To do' lists help in situations of overwhelm because they bring perspective and planning back to the situation and put you back in control.

  11. Create artificial deadlines to help move a task to action.

  12. Identify and eliminate tasks that will not benefit you.

  13. No matter how busy you are, don't start the next matter until you have recorded your time. Record your time compulsively. Your time is a very valuable commodity; only give it away intentionally.

  14. Learn how long it really takes for you to do things.

  15. Schedule or block out time on your calendar for tasks.

  16. Defeat procrastination. See Exhibit F.

  17. Learn how to control meetings and telephone calls. Have and follow a clear agenda.

  18. Learn to control your paperwork. Dump it, delegate it, do it, or delay it.

  19. Learn to control your email & voice mail, come up with boundaries and rules regarding them.

  20. Set up structures to help you change your behaviors and your attitude. See Exhibit F.

Exhibit F

Structures to Help You Change Your Behaviors

It is important to have structures in place to help you change your behaviors. Consider using the following to help you meet your law practice and life balance goals. Check off all those you are willing to use to meet your goals:

____Visualize your results. (Really imagine what it will look like when you have a balanced practice.)
____Believe in yourself. (Trust, that you have the determination, skills, and knowledge to accomplish what you set out to accomplish.
____Identify your limiting beliefs. e.g. "It is not appropriate to say no to clients or senior partners."
____Use affirmations. (Affirmations are statements of belief that what you want to happen is already true. For example: "I am efficient and get what needs to be done, done.")
____Check in with your core values. (Notice whether you are in alignment with your values in the actions you are taking.)
____Work with a buddy. (Work with a co-worker or friend to create accountability and motivation in reaching your goals.)
____Work with a professional such as a coach. (Use the professional's expertise to help you see what might be holding you back.)
____Maintain discipline. (Just do the difficult!)
____Give yourself rewards for your successes.
____Use penalties. (Give money to an organization you don't like when you fail to do something you say you will do.)
____Manage your procrastination. (See the following section for ways to do that.)
____Use your calendar. (Block out time for yourself.)

In order to achieve balance it is important to identify those things that stand in your way of achieving balance. Examples of things that may stop you:

  1. Being worried about being selfish.

  2. Putting the needs of others before your own.

  3. Resisting change.

  4. Being worried about what others will think.

Managing Procratination

Consider whether any of these reasons are reasons you procrastinate. On a scale of 1 - 10, with 10 being that you are absolutely guilty of doing this, how do you rate yourself?

____You are trying to do too much.
____You don't know what to do or how. This usually means you need to do some research.
____Your standard is too high. Perfectionism holds you back.
____You choose to do other things. You are saying "yes" to other things.
____You are not convinced of the benefits.
____You are not committed to the matter.
____You have some limiting belief that is getting in the way. (I can't do this.)
____You are afraid you will fail. Raise your consciousness about your fears.

Then consider these options for defeating or managing procrastination. The following ideas may help you take action on what you have been procrastinating. Rank on a scale from 1 to 10, how likely you are to do any of these things (10 being extremely likely).

____Break the objective down into small steps.
____Choose the first easy step you can take and get started. Action leads to further action.
____Do the hard thing first.
____Find out what you need to know. Do the background research.
____Be realistic. Let perfectionism go.
____Remove it from your "to do list" because you don't really want to do this thing at all.
____Delegate the matter to someone else.)
____Hire someone else to handle the matter.
____Notice the critical self-talk and stop wasting energy.
____If the way you think you should do this has not worked so far - come up with something else. Compare what works in handling others matters.
____Fire the client.
____Say "no" to something else.
____Schedule time in your calendar.
____Take a deep breath and start.
____Set deadlines that you share with someone.
____Stop, or don't do this thing if doing it results in your not being in alignment with your values.

Noticing Fear

How does fear keep you from your goals? On a scale of 1 - 10, how likely are the following to stop you from doing things, with 10 being you absolutely won't do something for fear of this?

____ Making mistakes
____ Losing respect
____ Being rejected
____ Being embarrassed
____ Making a bad decision
____ Because you are uncomfortable asking for what you want
____ Not knowing enough
____ Looking as if you are desperate
____ Doing something you have never done before
____ Talking with someone you don't know
____ Losing your job
____ Losing a client

Bibliography, Resources and Suggested Readings

Covey, Stephen R., First Things First, Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Elwork, Amiram. Stress Management for Lawyers: How to Increase Personal & Professional Satisfaction in the Law, The Vorkell Group, 1997.

Horn, Carl. LawyerLife: Finding a Life and a Higher Calling in the Practice of Law, American Bar Association, 2003

Jeffers, Susan, Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway, Ballantine Books, 1987.

Kaufman, George, The Lawyer's Guide to Balancing Life and Work; Taking the Stress Out of Success, American Bar Association, 1999.

Keeva, Steven, Transforming Practice: Finding Joy and Satisfaction in the Legal Life, Contemporary Books, 1999.

Morgenstern, Julie. Time Management from the Inside Out: The foolproof System for Taking Control of your Schedule - and Your Life, Henry Holt, 2000.

Richardson, Cheryl. Take Time for your Life, Broadway Books, 1998.

Sanitate, Frank. Don't Got to Work Unless It's Fun! State-of-the-Heart Time Management, Santa Barbara Press, 1994.

Sells, Benjamin. The Soul of the Law: Understanding Lawyers and the Law, Element, 1994.

Smith, Hyrum. The 10 Natural Laws of Successful Time and Life Management: Proven Strategies for Increased Productivity and Inner Peace. Warner Books, Inc., 1994.

Leonard, Irene. Create the Practice You Want: Law Practice Development Workbook. Coaching For Change, 2001. for a site to learn more about who you are. Steven Keeva's website to explore meaning and pleasure in law practice.