Posted By Danielle M. Hall,
Tuesday, April 23, 2019
Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 2019
By Danielle M. Hall, Deputy Disciplinary Administrator, Office of the Disciplinary Administrator
Did you know that you can add a watermark to your word documents in just a few simple steps? Microsoft Word has a few built-in watermarks that you may find useful in your practice. For instance, you will find watermarks to label a document as a draft version or confidential. Additionally, you can create your own custom watermarks for your documents. Here’s how you insert a watermark:
Click the Design tab in the Ribbon.
Click your selected watermark.
As you can see this is super easy. Here is how you create your own custom watermark:
Click the Design tab in the Ribbon.
Click Custom Watermark.
You can choose to insert a Picture watermark or Text watermark.
For a picture watermark, select Picture.
Click Select Picture.
Select your picture of choice and then click Insert.
For a text watermark, select Text.
Type your text in the Text box.
Set your Font, Size, and Color.
If you discover that your watermark is only appearing the on the first page, then I suggest you check your Header settings under the Insert Tab. If you are using a combination of headers on pages and a watermark, you will need to apply the watermark differently than above. For instructions on how to do this or trouble shoot watermark issues click here for additional information.
The Carrot Principle by Adrian Gostick is a focused look at how to manage and retain employees in your office. The authors build the case that employees are not traditionally loyal—citing a Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) study which said 3 out of 4 employees are looking for a new job and go on to explain how to retain workers through regular recognition of their hard work and effort. The book goes on to say that for recognition to be effective in retaining employees, it must be frequent, specific, and timely. Additionally, the recognition should give value to the worker, have an impact on their work, and be personal to them. Law firm owners often forget they are running a business with the same employee retention and profitability goals as “regular” businesses. We become busy with clients and deadlines and make up excuses as to why we will wait to give praise for an employee’s good deed. Or, some managers withhold giving recognition because the worker is “simply doing their job”. This attitude doesn’t work in today’s management climate. Workers have other options for employment, often other jobs with your competitors. It is important that we start recognizing the efforts of people working for us so our businesses can continue to thrive. The Carrot Principle teaches the reader how to integrate recognition with our daily routine in order to retain the talent we’ve worked so hard to train!
ABA Commission on Women in the Profession started several years ago and began research on what makes women lawyers successful. Grit and growth mindset were two traits that have been shown to impact the success of women lawyers. The Commission has now expanded its research from large law firms to encompass other legal environments including solo practice, small and medium law firms, corporations, government, and nonprofits. This a book of over 45 women sharing their inspiring stories of grit from many varied legal environments.
When I wrote about user reviews of courts and judges available on Yelp back in 2016, there were barely a handful of courts with reviews on the site. Since publication of that article, Google reviews have provided stiff competition for Yelp. Any time someone searches for a business or government office on Google, their Google reviews are prominently displayed in a call-out box to the right of search results. Realizing that this simplified obtaining and leaving reviews, I turned to Google reviews to see how our courts in Kansas rate with users.
I searched for every district court in the state together with the Supreme Court, the court of appeals, and the judicial branch generically at the end of November 2018 and created a spreadsheet of the data. Within those searches were 172 total reviews left about 55 of our courts—and 31 of those courts received at least one review in 2018. Instead of just a few outlier courts with a Yelp review page, we now have some data from just over 50 percent of our district courts with most of the reviews left in the past two years.
This is still a modest dataset, and it is important to note that 24 of the courts reviewed have just one review. I anticipated that a user taking the time to leave a review would most likely be an upset customer. That does not appear to be the case. While seven of these reviewers left a 1-star review, 11 left a 5-star review. Johnson county is at the other end of the spectrum with 28 reviews. While it is the largest county by population in Kansas, it is not the largest court by case filings. That would be Sedgwick county and it only pulled 13 reviews. Wyandotte, Leavenworth and Shawnee round out the top five most reviewed courts with 14, 11 and 8 respectively.
The subject of a court review is often not narrowly focused on judicial branch performance. For example, several of the Leavenworth reviews were related to racist remarks of a county commissioner whose story was blowing up nationally around the time I compiled results. Politics played a role in one of the Supreme Court’s 1-star reviews, which was also left with a comment, “Liberal idiots!” Multi-use county courthouses received several reviews about how county offices processed tags and titles and many reviews contain no content at all. Other reviews aim for humor: a 1-star in Sherman just says, “It’s a courthouse,” and the Supreme Court’s other 1-star review laments, “I didn’t win.” None of those are helpful.
Critiques and Compliments
Not all of the reviews should be tossed aside, however. The most common complaint across the counties is particularly interesting. A 1-star review very often relates to inaccessibility of court staff by phone. Phones are not answered. Messages are not returned. Staff cannot provide relevant information when a call is answered. The Supreme Court is attempting to address those types of complaints through the eCourt initiative which aims to centralize data, publish more information online and explore options for a call-in help center.
The most common compliments accompanying positive reviews related to helpful, friendly and polite staff. One reviewer shared that court staff went out of their way to assist her and her family. One reviewer in Harper county wanted the internet to know that Debbie, in particular, was friendly and helpful. Words like professional, polite, courteous and helpful were repeated across positive reviews and seem to display what the public’s expectation is from interactions with court staff. A court with an isolated comment about staff not rising to these expectations may be able to chalk it up to a bad day or outcome for the reviewer, but if negative reviews about staff interactions with the public are consistent, it should prompt some managerial introspection.
There are very few reviews that relate to judges themselves. Two negative reviews addressed concerns with courtroom demeanor. One judge allegedly rolled her eyes and suggested she could make matters worse for the reviewer who appears to have been challenging a ticket. The other review gave a 1-star to the judge for refusing to read evidence. Two other reviews dealt more generally with how rushed the court proceedings were, denying the reviewer opportunity to ask questions or understand what was going on in the proceeding, and one was quite upset with a 60-day sentence for public urination. That is as specific as judge reviews get in the data. Reviewers leaving positive comments seem less likely to leave details beyond saying their cases worked out. n
Google reviews are not perfect. They can be gamed and are often unfair with reviewers cherry-picking or making up narratives for personal aims. I am not a fan, and that is not just because I have a lousy 3-star average rating myself. Regardless, the reviews are a comment card, and it is worth reading them regularly. We read all of ours as a firm and explore the complaints (and compliments) to see where we can improve. Reviews offer a chance for courts and the judicial branch to do the same and it does not cost a dime.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to review your business and set goals. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you look forward to 2019:
Is your law firm a corporation? If not, should it be?
Review your balance sheet: What goals should you set for cash on hand, line of credit, loans, and distributions/salary?
Review your profit/loss statements: Pull the last 5 years of your yearly profit/loss statements – is your firm going the direction you would like and what tweaks or major changes are needed?
Review staffing: Set a goal to appreciate your staff more and determine what that would look like.
Are you happy? What adjustments are needed?
(check out the book from UMKC law professors Nancy Levit & Douglas O Linder – The Happy Lawyer or if you are the website/podcast type -https://thehappylawyerproject.com/
1. Review income statements on a monthly basis. It is necessary to see where the firm’s money is coming in and going. Software bookkeeping options allow users to create a specific report for a specific purpose. Detecting when expenses in a particular category are getting out of hand minimizes drain on yearly profits.
2. Set spending on realized revenue, not what “might be”. As you develop more clients, re-visit staffing needs and office space.
3. Monitor account receivables, credit lines and rates. A client account that is thirty-plus days overdue in payment means lost earnings, and breeds a credit line dependency.
Keep overhead low. For every dollar you earn, if you can reduce your overhead by one dollar, thereʼs your salary.
Distinguish between a want and a need.Malpractice insurance coverage and a back-up server should be categorized as needs. Likewise, a disaster plan binder and electronic folder that detail who does what, when, how and where in emergencies.
An organized recordkeeping system is a must.Calendar small business tax deadlines. Compliance with tax obligations is a requirement for attorneys to maintain “good standing.”
Here are some quick tips to implement at your office staff meetings:
HAVE THEM AT A REGULAR TIME. In our office staff meetings are called BUZZ meetings—Business Updates at Zimmerman & Zimmerman, P.A. We hold our office-wide staff meeting on Mondays mid-afternoon.
LIMIT THE TIME.
For our office they can only be 1/2 hour. These meetings run everyone through the typical scheduling and projects.
DON'T DO ALL THE TALKING.
Schedule 3 to 4 other people to bring information to the meeting. (i.e. one person goes through calendar, another goal setting, another shares a positive thought, another does a training segment.)
If you’re sick of Calibri and Cambria, change your default heading and body styles so you can start every new Word document with the fonts you prefer.
Put Font Frustration Behind You!
One of the most persistent frustrations legal users have with Microsoft Word is the default font settings. Fortunately, you can permanently change just two Styles (+Body and +Headings) to give your documents a more businesslike typeface.
These settings are found in the Design tab (introduced into Microsoft Word with version 2013).
Over on the far right is a drop-down called Fonts. Clicking on Fonts will give you a list of preconfigured font sets. From here, you want to choose Customize Fonts.
That’s going to take you into the Create New Theme Fonts dialog box. On the left, you’ll see Heading font and Body font. This is where you set the two Styles I told you about earlier, +Body and +Headings, which in turn control basic settings for many of the other Styles in a Word document. Just use the drop-down for each to find a font more to your liking. Then you can name your preferred font set before clicking save.
Once you reset the font style, the default text size is an easy fix, too.
Go to the Home tab and click on the small launcher arrow in the lower right-hand corner of the font section to go to the Font dialog box. Select +Body and the size text you want, then click Set as Default in the lower left-hand corner.
Word will ask whether you want to make this the default for this document only or for all future documents based on the Normal template. Choose the latter and click OK.
Save everything you’ve done by clicking Set as Default on the Design tab (next to the Colors and Fonts buttons).
Now Every New Document You Start in Word Will Use the Fonts You Prefer
This doesn’t affect documents you receive from others or any existing documents you created. However, once you reset your default fonts, at least your days of adjusting the fonts every time you start a document are behind you.
Since 2009, the number of legal malpractice suits has escalated along with the costs to defend them, according to annual surveys by Ames & Gogh, an insurance broker. They say:
Insurers have paid claims of $50 million or more in 2016.
Malpractice claims are most commonly triggered by conflicts of interest and cybersecurity issues.
Business transactions result in the most claims, which tend to center around improper preparation, filing and/or document transmission.
If you want to do everything possible to ensure you’re never among the firms accused of malpractice, take advantage of law practice management software, advises Nerino Petro, technology co-editor for the ABA “GP|Solo Magazine” and CEO of a legal consulting firm.
“Properly implemented, law practice management can help reduce malpractice exposure by significantly reducing opportunities for human error, and that’s huge,” he says.
Top law practice management software brings the highest level of diligence to conflict checking by searching your entire database, including notes, files, text documents, images that have undergone optical character recognition scanning, and emails. It then can run a report of results.
This is a vast improvement over typical conflict-checking methods, says Petro.
“These can range from a lawyer poking his head out of his office and yelling, ‘Anyone ever represent Joe Goglioni?’ to circulating a list of names throughout the firm to running names through a time-and-billing system,” he explains. “If there’s no response or nothing shows up, they assume they’ve done a conflict check. It’s no wonder malpractice claims for conflict checks are increasing.”
2. Keeping Track of Deadlines
“If you have never woken up in the middle of the night, panicking that you might have blown a statute of limitations date, you’re in the wrong field,” declares Nerino, “because that should be something that keeps you up at night.”
Law practice management software can help you ensure you never miss a deadline (and sleep much easier) by:
Automatically calculating court deadlines to eliminate human error — like overlooking holidays, weekends, and rule changes — that can happen too easily when deadlines are calculated manually.
Automatically update you if rule sets have changed. The most trusted practice management systems employ attorney editors who continuously monitor rule sets across the entire U.S. judicial system. If a rule changes, you will be automatically notified so every deadline in your case can be updated to reflect it.
Alert you of tasks to complete to meet the court deadline. If the court deadline shifts, your task deadlines will, too.
3. Providing Thorough Documentation
Practice management software acts as a repository for all of your matter information. It details every action you take and when you take them to move your matters forward.
This came in handy for Cynthia Sharp, Esq., when she owned a law firm (she is now an attorney coach). She recalls when a client’s daughter accused her of not “doing anything” with her mother’s case for two years. Because of her law practice management system, Sharp was able to counter this assertion with 200 time-stamped actions she had taken to move the matter forward.
“I would have never been as convincing if I didn’t have the technology that helped us track precisely what we did on behalf of her mother,” says Sharp.
In addition to meticulously documenting actions taken on a matter, the best law practice management tools document communication through secure client portals. A built-in client portal allows you to securely exchange documents and messages with clients while recording and time stamping the actions taken regarding the communication.
“If a client insists that they never got a response to an issue, you’ll be able to pull up the communication and point to the date your response was sent, if they opened it, and how they replied,” notes Petro.
4. Mitigating Cybersecurity Issues
Malpractice insurers have seen an uptick in malpractice claims related to hackers. This shouldn’t be surprising considering that the latest ABA Legal Technology Survey
Report reveals that most law firms with fewer than 10 attorneys don’t take any action to encrypt their emails or files. This makes small law firms an appealing target, says Petro, because the information they’re responsible for — whether that’s details of a merger or simply social security numbers — is valuable. That’s why he believes a cybersecurity needs to be a top, if not the number one, priority for law firms.
The easiest way to make sure your law firm is up to speed with the latest and best cybersecurity is by taking advantage of law practice management software, which provides industry-leading security that would be too costly for small law firms to obtain on their own. This includes:
The same cybersecurity as the world’s leading financial organizations, including SOC 2 compliance and certification.
Encryption for emails and data while in transit and storage.
Daily data back up on multiple servers, in discrete locations, with 24/7 physical security and cybersecurity protection.
“Law practice management tools can help you efficiently meet your obligations under the rules of professional conduct,” says Petro. “From keeping your client’s information confidential to providing detailed documentation of activities, time and billing, and communication, you’ll have the data you need to mitigate the situations that cause lawsuits. It’s no wonder many insurers provide discounts to firms that have a law practice management subscription.”
Find out how easy it is to rest easier knowing that your firm is doing everything possible to avoid the human error behind malpractice claims. Take advantage of a two-week free trial of Firm Central that includes all of the features discussed in this article. (We know lawyers get busy, so if you forget to notify us in a couple of weeks that you’re not interested — don’t worry. You won’t automatically be rolled into a subscription.)
And, if at the end of the two weeks you’re wondering how you lived without it, you’ll be relieved to know that subscriptions are affordable — about the same as a basic cell phone or cable bill.
Here's the legal lowdown on document management software
BY NICOLE BLACK
Choosing the right technology tools for your law firm can be a confusing endeavor. After all, there are so many different types of software products available and so many choices to make when it comes to features, pricing and security. Sifting through the maze of information can be a time-consuming process that can quickly become overwhelming.
That’s why my goal with this new monthly legal technology column is to get lawyers up to speed on their legal software options. In each column, I’ll focus on a specific type of software—such as billing or contract analysis software—and explain the choices available, including features built into software suites and stand-alone platforms devoted to handling a particular law firm function.
Most of the software tools discussed will be those aimed at small and midsize firms, since large firms have very different, more complex needs. I’ll also focus primarily on cloud-based tools since even the most traditional software providers are transitioning many of their products to the cloud. Generic consumer-focused tools will not be discussed since legal-specific software is designed with lawyers’ needs in mind, both in terms of functionality and security, whereas consumer-focused software is not.
In this column, I’ll cover the document management software options for solo, small and midsize law firms. Because the practice of law is document-intensive, firms of all sizes have document management needs. Some rely on the foldering systems built into their word processing software, but most firms require a more robust system. That’s where document management software comes in.
Document management software is designed to provide a built-in organizational system for your documents. Documents can be associated with case files or matters, and access can be limited to certain firm users. Some more robust systems include document versioning and audit trails that track user access to documents. Document collaboration and sharing features are also built into some platforms and allow secure external sharing with clients, co-counsel, experts and more. Another feature included in some software products is the conversion of scanned documents into optical character recognition format, which creates searchable, indexed PDFs.
Your firm’s document management needs will depend in large part on the size of your law firm and the practice areas handled by your firm. Some practice areas are much more document-intensive and thus require more robust document management tools.
For solo and small-firm lawyers with practices that aren’t document-intensive—such as family lawyers, trust and estate lawyers, and criminal law attorneys—a stand-alone document management system is likely unnecessary. Instead, the document management features built into most law practice management systems such as Rocket Matter, Clio or MyCase (note that I am the legal technology evangelist with MyCase) will often be sufficient and more cost-effective than using both law practice management software and document management software.
The document management features built into law practice management software typically include the ability to store and associate documents with client matters, basic document versioning, and the ability to share documents using secure online portals. Some even allow document collaboration using secure communication portals, a functionality that is all the more important in the wake of ABA Formal Opinion 477, wherein the ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility concluded that particularly sensitive client information should no longer be shared using unencrypted email.
Of course, some small and midsize law firms have more complex document management requirements. Three leading stand-alone systems for such firms to consider are iManage, Worldox and Netdocs. Worldox and iManage have been around for years as premise-based solutions, and both recently rolled out cloud-based options. Netdocs, on the other hand, has always been a cloud-based solution. This means Netdocs was designed to work in, and take advantage of, cloud functionality from the very start, whereas Worldox and iManage’s cloud versions are based on functionality and features found in their premise-based software.
All three platforms provide advanced document management features. In addition, they also include robust document versioning, audit trails and OCR conversion from scans that permit document indexing and search features. Each also includes email management tools, knowledge management capabilities, and other features specific to larger firms, including key integrations with Office 365, e-discovery platforms, and more.
Finally, because all the document management systems discussed above—both the stand-alone and built-in options—are cloud-based, mobile document access is available no matter which software solution you choose. When your firm’s documents are securely stored in the cloud, you can easily and securely access those documents from any location via the mobile app of your chosen software program using any internet-enabled device.
With today’s document management software, gone are the days of scrambling to locate documents. Instead, you’ll be able to quickly and easily access, share and collaborate on your firm’s documents no matter where you are. Another bonus is that with cloud-based document management software, you’ll be well on your way to digitizing your firm’s documents, allowing your firm to easily transition to e-filing when it’s required in your jurisdiction.
So if you aren’t already using document management software in your law firm, what better time than now to make the move?
Nicole Black is a Rochester, New York, attorney, author, journalist and the legal technology evangelist at MyCase, legal practice management software for solo and small-firm lawyers. She is the nationally recognized author of Cloud Computing for Lawyers, and she co-authored Social Media for Lawyers: The Next Frontier.She also co-authored Criminal Law in New York, a Thomson West treatise. She writes regular columns for The Daily Record, Above the Law and Legal IT Pros, has authored hundreds of articles and regularly speaks at conferences regarding the intersection of law, mobile and cloud computing, and internet-based technology. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You have at least three phone numbers (home, office, and cell), at least two email addresses (work and personal), and at least two social media accounts (Facebook and LinkedIn). You can be texted, tweeted, emailed, snail-mailed and even faxed. If people want to reach you, they expect to do so almost immediately. It’s no wonder you feel pulled in too many directions and think your scarce time is being wasted.
Add to that the evolution of our professional landscape — the fact that being an expert in your respective field requires a more complex understanding of facts and trends than ever before. To earn and keep your clients’ business, you have to impress them with information they didn’t already know (or could Google).
Then there’s business development, an endeavor once sufficiently addressed with a listing in the phone book, an ad in the paper, and a membership with the Rotary club. Now, it requires constant networking, social media posts, charity involvement, PR, conference attendance, competitive intelligence, and persistent “pinging.”
Ways to Make More Time for Business Development
A healthy practice is already a full-time job. The key is to be as efficient as possible so that you have time left for business development (or whatever else you’ve been neglecting). Here are six steps you can take to increase your efficiency.
1. Start your day with a task list, and use it to guide your activities. This is not as easy as it sounds. All too often we find ourselves starting our day with an idea of how it will go and what we’ll get done, only to find that we get sidetracked, distracted, held-up, and rain-checked by various other people and projects. If this happens, be disciplined in getting your day back on track. Keep a white-board or some other large, visible list in your office that you can use to remind yourself of your priorities for the day. The harder it is to miss, the better.
2. Establish set times for email responses, and stick to them. If you always start every day with email, you’re immediately entering a reactive work mode. Your email inbox is like a to-do list assigned by 100 people, none of whose immediate concern is whether or not you bring in new clients. And email is typically the gateway to an entire day spent in that reactive mode. Of course, you’ll tend to your clients’ needs, but it’s very easy to fall into the trap of serving others’ needs all day long, without ever getting around to yours.
Before you open your inbox in the morning, start your day with a proactive business development project. Maybe it’s reviewing a list of prospects you’ve recently collected, or inviting a colleague out to lunch to see if he or she could provide any potential for referrals. Start your day doing something proactive that serves your goals, because chances are that you won’t find time for it once the day gets started.
3. Stop multitasking. There is a widespread misconception that multitasking is doing two or more tasks simultaneously. But this is inaccurate; multitasking actually involves switching back and forth between different tasks (often with mediocre results). This task-switching consists of two stages. The first is goal-shifting: deciding to focus on another task rather than the one on which you’re currently working. The second is rule activation: recalibrating your mind away from the “rules” of the first task and toward the “rules” of the second task. This recalibration can squander as much as 40 percent of your productive time — hardly worth it. Instead, make a conscious effort to “uni-task,” (i.e., work on only one task at a time). Block out time in your calendar and close your office door to ensure there are minimal interruptions during your designated uni-tasking time.
4. Clear off the mess on your desk, so you can think straight. Rather than leave papers cluttered on your desk, apply the “touch it once” principle. For each item, ask yourself if you have time, right now, to touch this item just once? After opening and reading it, can you deal with it quickly? Then decide whether it needs to be filed, responded to, or delegated. Whichever of these three actions is required, do it immediately. If you don’t have time now to “touch it once” and get it off your desk, then leave it until you’re able to focus on it.
5. Use a timer to limit the number of minutes you spend on any given task.Perfection is often the death of production. Whether drafting an email to a client or updating your bio, there are diminishing rates of return on projects that take up too much of your time and attention. Estimate at the outset how much time you will need to devote to a project in order to get your final product to a solid B+ grade level. If it takes hours longer to make it an A+, it’s probably not worth the effort for a result that is only marginally better.
6. Delegate more of your work to someone else, even if they don’t always do it the “right way.” The only way to survive the frenzy of a busy day is to prioritize — to cut low-yield activities out of our lives so that there’s enough room for the ones that produce the best results. Most of the successful rainmakers I know are obsessed with leverage. They are constantly looking for ways to minimize the time spent on client service so they can focus more on client acquisition. Why? Because it’s far easier to find a service partner than a rainmaker.
Prioritize, own your schedule, then delegate. You might find that you have more time for business development than you thought.
David Ackert is the President of Ackert Inc. and a mentor to high-achieving professionals in the legal, corporate, finance and accounting sectors. David has advised hundreds of lawyers, CEOs and professional-services executives on overcoming business development and marketing challenges. He has developed and implemented business development programs for countless firms, from AmLaw 100s to local boutiques. Follow him on LinkedInor Twitter @DavidAckert.
Do you dread going to work? If so, maybe it's time to look at the other ways you can flex your legal skills, Nancy Levit says. There are many types of jobs for lawyers, and sometimes what you thought you wanted to do doesn’t work out, Levit tells the ABA Journal's Stephanie Francis Ward in this episode of Asked and Answered.
Levit shares tips on how to find the work you want to do and how to find joy in the work you’re already doing.
One way to adjust your mindset at work is to look at who you’re spending time with, she says. Are you hanging out with colleagues who have positive outlooks, or with the workplace worrywarts and complainers?
Levit advises keeping a mindset of “upward” comparisons. Comparing “downward” means focusing on the things others have that you don’t, while comparing upward makes you grateful for the things you do have. Lawyers tend to want perfection, she says, and the quest to keep up with the Joneses—or the Jones Days—can cause people to be unhappy.
This podcast was brought to you by our advertiser, LawPay. “Did you know that attorneys who accept online payments get paid 39 percent faster on average than those using traditional payment methods? With LawPay, the only payment solution offered through the ABA Advantage program, you can accept client payments online, via email, or in person—no equipment needed. Visit LawPay.com/podcast to sign up and get your first three months free.”
Nancy Levit is a professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law and the interim associate dean for faculty. She teaches defamation and privacy, employment discrimination, gender and justice, jurisprudence and torts, and is the co-adviser to the UMKC Law Review. Levit is the author of several books, including The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law and its sequel, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law, both co-authored by Douglas Linder.
Now that you’ve survived — maybe even enjoyed — the rounds of law firm holiday parties, the slate is wiped clean for 2018. No doubt, resolutions and good intentions bubbled up with the start of the new year. You may have noted them in your head or purchased a new motivational calendar with quarterly pages for tracking your goals.
Lawyers are two to four times as addicted as those in other professions.
Lawyers are four times as depressed as the general population.
During the first 10 years of practice, lawyers have the highest rate of addiction.
There’s Nothing Like a Civilized “Hunger Games”
Of course, this could be the year you break the predictable cycle of broken promises to yourself (and your spouse, your family, your doctor) and insert more balance into your life: eat better, get more exercise, spend more time with family and friends. You know the drill.
Unfortunately, as they climb the rungs to partnership or work to build a viable practice of their own, few lawyers really believe they have a choice in the matter. Finding balance is especially difficult in a law firm of any significant size, where each day is essentially an “interview.” You’re under a microscope as others scrutinize your billable hours, client originations and ability to respond immediately to any demand. You are at the 24/7 disposal of new partners, new clients and new peers who will like you or not, respect you or not, and assess over a six- to nine-year period whether you have “the right stuff.” Nothing like a civilized “Hunger Games,” right?
Tangible, Realistic Ways to Begin a Shift Toward Balance in Your Life
On the bright side, many law firms are shifting away from unhealthy work models, hoping talented lawyers can avoid burnout — and that they’ll stick around. Eventually, this culture shift should reduce defections and lead to more lawyers having long and robust careers.
Until then, however, here are five concrete things you can do to take control of your work-life balance:
1. Disconnect from technology whenever possible. Set up a message on your voicemail and email systems stating you are unavailable and provide contacts for those needing help. Leave an additional number to reach you in a real emergency (it typically is not one). Most senior partners and clients expect 24/7 instant availability, so this won’t be easy. But, it can be accomplished with some creativity. Doctors learned this decades ago by assigning “on call” weekends or weeknights. Maybe your practice group can do the same.
2. Learn to say no. Set realistic work boundaries that permit you to do quality work and maintain high energy. In my experience, a senior partner has more respect for young lawyers who are honest about their workload and do not wish to compromise quality.
3. Take all vacation and comp days. Make them real vacations, not “staycations,” especially if you have finished a major project or trial, or have been traveling excessively for work. Take off for two weeks — not one. You need at least three or four days to feel your body relax and then you’ll have a full week to decompress. And try not to plan too many trips that are exhausting in and of themselves.
4. Commit to healthy habits. Easier said than done, but here are the basics:
Take frequent, quick breaks: a quick walk, five minutes of deep breathing, a short meditation.
Every night, spend an hour doing something for yourself that you can look forward to — a good book, some Netflix, yoga.
Follow good nutrition habits instead of binge eating when you’re feeling starved or late at night.
Get some social interaction outside of work.
Make a sustained sleep schedule a priority. Studies confirm that we lose all stability if our sleep is compromised for any period of time.
5. Get in touch with your life’s priorities, goals and passions. Have you discarded or forgotten them? Your tombstone is not going to read that you had the highest billable hours for a decade. Here are a few tactics to use when looking to reconnect with your passions:
Identify your greatest joys. Feel free to go back to your childhood.
List five things (jobs, volunteer work, hobbies, adventures) you would like to do.
List five more things that you are very good at doing (even if you have never done them in public or as part of a job).
Complete this sentence: “My life is ideal when … ” Do it again 15 times, then reduce it to your top five.
Everything in life that results in real change begins with simple and tangible action steps, not a January flood of empty promises to yourself and new gym memberships.