“RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!”
They say it with a wry smile. And then after a bit of contemplation, they suggest that if they do decide to go to law school, they could use their law degree to do something other than practice law.
However, the thing I’ve learned during my 25+ years practicing law, first with a big firm, then as an in-house lawyer and finally as a solo practitioner, is that practicing law doesn’t have to be awful. Especially if you’re willing to ask the question, “What would make this better?”
For me, there are a few things that have helped to “make this better” over the years:
Prioritize. The practice of law can be all-consuming, which means you need to prioritize other areas of your life. Health is a big one, along with family, friends and meaningful activities outside of work. In a profession that is more than happy to have you grinding out 70+ hours a week, you have to put workouts, date nights, play dates and hobbies on your calendar and commit fully to these important (but not urgent) activities.
Manage your stress. Practicing law is stressful. And it is made even more so if your only outlet is ranting and raving about the practice of law. Getting enough sleep, eating right and exercise all help manage stress. Relaxation techniques also work, but (and here is the important part) only if you find what works for you. Trying to make yourself do something you don’t like only adds stress. (For me, this was mediation!) So, whether it’s dancing around your office to great music, remembering to take three deep breaths before picking up the phone, taking a five minute break each hour to read the news and make a cup of tea, listening to music while you work or playing a hand of hearts online, if it works for you, do it.
Attitude matters. Learning to focus on the positive aspects of practicing law has had an amazing effect on my life. For me, this often includes thinking about how the practice of law has provided resources to accomplish some of my other goals. (The biggest one of these was using those resources to take a year off to travel around the world with my family when my kids were 9 and 11… not a bad thing to remember on those days when I’m slogging through a seemingly never-ending pile of work.)
Cut down on the boring and repetitive work. For those willing to adopt legal tech, there are powerful tools to cut down on the boring and repetitive tasks while also increasing effectiveness, efficiency, and profitability. Since much of the legal technology out there is created for the big firms with lots of money to spend, finding the right platform is important. The biggest system (or the one with the most features, or the priciest) is not necessarily the best. Find the simplest tool that does what you need right now.
Innovate. Innovate. Innovate. It’s the best way I’ve found to balance the tedious aspects of the job. For instance, when I couldn’t find an affordable solution that would help me automate and expedite the time-devouring (and soul-crushing) job of preparing and reviewing documents for disclosure and production, I created one. It was the question, “What would make this better?” that helped me take action because I knew that if I could make this one task faster and easier, I could improve both my practice and my mental health.