Associate attorneys may have the highest salaries but, in a recent survey, they were rated as having the "least happy" jobs, perhaps because of the long hours and lack of work/life balance.
Greater "balance," however, might not be the answer. According to Wharton Professor Stewart D. Friedman, "A commitment to better 'work/life balance' isn't the solution... A more realistic and more gratifying goal is better integration between work and the rest of life..." As boundaries between work and home continue to blur and work/life balance becomes increasingly elusive, the future lies in integrating career and life in a more seamless, less structured way.
Many industries are embracing this integrated approach, as evidenced by a U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, which found that 35 percent of professionals do all or some of their work at home. For the legal profession, however, the numbers are said to be much less.
Here are several ways to help lawyers achieve work/life integration - and possibly happiness, too:
Technology is a great liberator, freeing lawyers from the office. While lawyers might not be able to perform virtual court appearances, they can deliver advice, lead negotiations and handle settlements, all via video conferencing. Overflowing email inboxes can be inefficient at getting to information quickly. Instead, cloud-based collaboration solutions ease the inevitable knowledge sharing that takes place in any law practice, making exchanges with colleagues convenient at all times. It's also possible to pursue continuing legal education via cloud-based programs, eliminating the need to get on a plane and travel for CLE purposes, which means more time with family.
By leveraging technology to work from flexible locations and increase efficiency, lawyers can spend more time on pursuits that bring happiness to other areas of their lives.
Build Virtual Relationships
Law is a relationship-based business. In the past, relationship building was directly related to face time. Now, social media lets you build authentic relationships online, facilitating what would otherwise take many in-person meetings to accomplish.
You can integrate social media for relationship building into daily life. By scheduling time each week to spend on social media, perhaps a half hour every other day, it's manageable and realistic. If that's not possible, consider squeezing some social engagement into pockets of your life in which you have a few spare minutes. For example, at your child's soccer game, take a quick break while the kids are having a snack and post on social media. While waiting in line for your coffee in the morning, check your LinkedIn updates and give a shout out to a colleague who just started a new job. A few such minutes a day can go a long way, allowing you to build strong relationships that can help with professional networking and collaboration, in ways that can be easily integrated into your life.
Consider a Coach
While I have not utilized coaching services, I've played sports all of my life and a great coach can sometimes make all the difference. That's why companies are providing staff returning from maternity or parental leave with coaches to help them develop strategies to better integrate work and life. Coaches may be able to help you with decisions around how to prioritize the demands upon your time and how to set limits to carry out those priorities.
Law firms such as Proskauer Rose, for instance, offer mentorship programs, career coaching and other support services. If your firm offers such perks, take advantage; if not, seek out mentoring from colleagues who have been successful at work/life integration.
Think in Micro-Moments
You don't need vast amounts of time to enjoy activities that bring happiness. Look at time differently and gather those quality moments when you can. As a founder of a tech startup and a law firm, and mother, I literally live my life in minutes. If I find five extra minutes, I see what I can accomplish, personally or professionally. By weaving my work into my life, I'm able to preserve family time and personal time. By leveraging technology and being connected at almost all times, I take advantage of a wide variety of tools to get things done.
Take advantage of the natural ebbs and flows of work, and when "down time" at work affords you some freedom, leverage those moments to do things that bring you personal happiness.
Be Your Authentic Self
People are their happiest when they are being their authentic self. In the image-conscious world we live in and high pressure environments in which lawyers operate, lawyers are often at risk of disconnecting their authentic self from the image they are projecting to clients and colleagues. Doing this, though, leaves us out of balance and that leads to stress. Stay in balance by being true to yourself about your career, your goals, who you are, and what's important to you.
Looking To the Future
Technology continues to improve, and new generations of young lawyers believe it is possible to achieve work/life integration. As the legal industry increasingly moves towards embracing "work/life" integration, surveys of the future just might find the legal profession to be a much happier one.