Burnout, And The Importance Of Taking Time For Yourself
As most people know, my husband and I finally flitted away for our took-us-two-years-to-get-here honeymoon a few weeks ago. Unfortunately for us, Irma had different plans, and we were evacuated back to Toronto after only a few days.
I share this story because when we were back in Canada, my husband turned to me and said "so are you going back to the office tomorrow?"
Now, the part of me that is a lawyer who bills by the hour and is paid based on how much money she brings into the firm wanted to say "yes of course I'm going into the office" because that would mean more billable hours and more money I could bring home to our family to help us keep building toward the life we'd worked so hard to get to over the last seven years. But the wife in me, the partner in me, and the human being who does not want her entire life's work to be notices of motion and the endless cycle of telephone tag, knew I was going to leave my out of office on my email inbox and curl up at home for the next four days with the man I married.
I tell any young lawyer or law student that comes through my office, if there is one thing I can teach you it is to be comfortable going home and leaving the rest of the work for tomorrow.
Most of what I write about is for law students. By the time you get to where I am, law school and others have taught you most of what you will absorb and I offer very little value on top of that. But perhaps the one thing I learned very well in law school and what I continue to advocate for in practice is a true work life balance. A true understanding of what it means to unplug at the end of the day and be present to the people around you.
Because this is the great disservice law school does for us. It leaves students feeling as though if they are not working every waking moment of every single day they will fail. And, unfortunately, many students carry that through into their law careers. Many students accept that if they are working on Bay Street or Wall Street that working 6 days a week comes with the territory. Working until 10pm on a Saturday is just "part of the game" and that if they just survive through the grunt years, it won't be that bad.
I am here to tell you all, unequivocally, that everyone else thinks you're fucking insane
The magic number for most lawyers if 5 years. If you survive into your fifth year of practice, lots of doors and opportunities are open to you. Most people attribute this to the level of experience you attain. But the reality is that at five years, burnout culls most of your competition. They have worked themselves too long and too hard that their bodies have started a violent coup in an attempt to get them to slow the fuck down.
You know who doesn't get burnout? Lawyers who work 8 - 6. Lawyers who leave early on Fridays to go pick up their kids from school. Lawyers who leave their cell phones on the other side of the house at dinner time so they can be present with their families. Lawyers who understand that for every minute of family time they sacrificed last week for the file that hit the fan, they owe their family two minutes of uninterrupted attention.
The bigger problem of course is the young lawyers and law students who grow up in this environment and then force it upon the ones who come after them. "Well, you think 12 hour days are bad? You couldn't handle what I did two years ago." is not a healthy office management strategy. You know what? You cannot possibly be a good lawyer if you're working that many hours. You cannot possibly be doing a service to your clients by working yourself to the point of such physical exhaustion that you cannot remember what you wrote or why you wrote it.
Here's another secret. For most of us, the world is not going to burn down if we take a little time for ourselves. The world doesn't need lawyers that badly.