Getting Control of Your Hours

The central career issue of our day is finding meaningful work which leaves time for our personal lives. Professionals who charge for their time know this firsthand. In the legal profession, where the pressure to bill more hours has never been greater, this is particularly true.

But choosing a career in law does not automatically require you to sacrifice your whole personal life. With some deliberate thinking and good career planning, it is possible to enjoy a measure of work/life balance even at some of the top law firms. Here are 5 tips for making this a reality. While this list is based on what I know about the legal profession, the principles apply to other professional services business as well.

1. Focus on work that has predictable flows.

Following your interests is good career planning. But most of us have multiple interests. If you have the choice, choose work that is more predictable. In law, stay away from high stakes litigation where you will be subjected to unpredictable deadlines. Avoid becoming a high powered “deal lawyer” who works on large mergers and acquisitions, IPO’s or other highly time sensitive transactions. Stay away from entrepreneurial clients who want everything to happen yesterday. Instead, choose to focus on work that has more predictable deadlines. In corporate practice, that might mean securities compliance or bank lending. In real estate, that might mean leasing work. If you do choose to spend part of your time on “interesting” litigation matters, make sure you balance out your work with other matters that are less time sensitive (e.g. appellate work.)

2. Early in your career, be a “yes” person and do great work.

If you demonstrate early in your career that you are ready, willing and able to sacrifice nights and weekends for the sake of the firm, you will have a lot more leverage to say “no” when you are more senior. Your ability to say no later on will also increase if you earn the reputation for doing great work.

3. Build strong partner and client relationships.

Taking the time to build your relationships with partners and clients will also give you move leverage in the future. If you have good relationships, you will find it easier to ask a partner or a client if he or she really needs something by the following day.

4. Find a firm where the culture supports outside interests.

Believe it or not, firm cultures do vary. While work/life balance is hardest to achieve at large law firms, there are some small and mid-sized law firms that do high quality work but still manage to allow partners and associates to pursue personal interests. Of course you have to do a lot of homework to find these firms; but they do exist. Talk to associates and ask them what they do outside of work. Find out whether partners are at the office after 7 p.m. on a regular basis.

5. Learn some time management skills and learn to delegate.

I left this one for last because time management does not solve the underlying problem if you simply have too much work to do. On the other hand, managing your time and learning to delegate more effectively can help you to make better use of the limited time that you do have for work.

Leave a Comment

one × three =