New Year's Resolutions for Lawyers

Published: Jan 10, 2022

Topics: Law       

Apologies for the dearth of content the last couple of weeks. One of my resolutions as a recovering lawyer is 1) to actually take vacation time and 2) actually not work while I'm doing that. Consider the silence on the blog evidence of success!

But speaking of resolutions, it seems highly appropriate to join probably every other blog in the world by making the first post of 2022 all about New Year's Resolutions. Our list will be geared towards lawyers and law students, but we'll try to sprinkle in a few that have some more general applicability to life outside the law. Let's go!

1) Seek balance

There's a happy medium between being a slacker and a workaholic that most of us struggle to consistently hit, and here in the States (and particularly among American law students and attorneys) the tendency skews overwhelmingly toward overemphasizing career growth at the expense of physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual health. Relationships also suffer from workaholism. Keeping up with the demands of the profession will never be a low-stress endeavor, nor will you ever feel like you've accomplished everything you need to in order to relax. Our suggestion here is fourfold. Focus on getting enough sleep; be willing to turn off your phone for family and personal time; try meditating and exercising three times a week; and remind yourself every day that other parts of your life are always more important than the job. We stress that here, because we come from BigLaw and know how easy it is to forget it.

2) Get organized

As hard as this job is when you're doing everything right, there is no sense in making it even harder than it needs to be. If you don't already, get some calendar software and use it. Share it with the partners who assign work and the coworkers on your teams so everyone has a sense of what your availability is. On that calendar, block out time to actually perform undisturbed work on your deliverables (and, may we say again, your personal time). Once you calendar something, enforce it. Setting boundaries with partners may be terrifying if you aren't used to it, but only one of two things will happen. They'll respect your boundaries, which is a win for you; or they won't, which is useful information in a lateral market as white hot as this one is.

3) Kill procrastination

Getting organized dovetails nicely into this, but associates too often find themselves flying by the seat of their pants, triaging down to the most urgent of a dozen highly urgent projects, only to have to do things like try to remember all their time at the end of the week for logging and releasing (which turns into an hour or two of their precious personal time). On the calendar, block out time for a task and spend that block working on that task and nothing else. Most timekeeping software has a start and stop button so you can run a stopwatch while working-use it! Get in the habit of real-time timekeeping and you don't have to go through the rigamarole of remembering and doing all your entries at the end of the week. Until we succeed in our quest to destroy the billable hour, this is the best we can do.

4) Socialize (but not too much)

With COVID still raging, most of us are still working remotely. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and it's no real substitute for face-to-face socializing (or work calls). However, we remember pre-COVID, when the distractions of working in the office probably robbed us of at least half an hour if not a full hour of productive work time every day, as we fended off phone calls, small talk, and pointless meetings that could have been emails. This is one of the hardest balancing acts about these times, but we're firm believers in getting to know your coworkers personally. You need to feel like your team has your back if you need to take some family or personal time, and there's no way to get that feeling except to genuinely bond with and care about each other. For now, we recommend attending at least one Zoom lunch or happy hour per week, and investing intention and attention into that event because of the dividends it will pay for team cohesion, productivity, and stress reduction. More than one a week gets into the distraction territory none of us miss about office work. (Put it on the calendar!!!)

5) Forge mental discipline

We all know how it feels to log off the clock, and maybe even turn off the phone, but still be consumed by thoughts about work, be it anxiety about the next day or regrets about the previous. Conversely, while working (especially from home), it's easy to get distracted by daydreaming, or worries about a sick family member, or everything else life brings with it. One of the most powerful tools available to all human beings, including lawyers (who need it more than most, if you ask us), is mindfulness. The ability to focus on the present moment and see the noise of other thoughts for what it is can bring calm and sanity into the torrential stress hurricane that is life in BigLaw. Learn to exist in the moment you're in, and you'll be surprised how calm you can be in even the most objectively stressful situations at work. Conversely, at home, you can experience the benefits of a real, bona fide recharge with a mind uncluttered by worries about work. Learn to put worry away until you need it, so that your personal time actually serves you.

If there's one thing we learned in 2021, it's that making predictions about how this year might go is pretty pointless. Just focus on what you can control-your own mind and your own choices. Remember that, in the immortal words of Tyler Durden, you are not your job. Keep a good sense of your own identity apart from your career, be comfortable setting boundaries (even with yourself), and we promise this year will be better than it would be if you don't.