I’ve been practicing corporate law for more than twenty years, more than half of which has been at large, international law firms, and I eventually became a partner at DLA Piper. The other half of my career has been spent in-house at public companies, leading me to my current role as General Counsel at a public company based in Las Vegas.
While I can’t truthfully claim that I’ve never felt fatigued or frustrated with my career, I can say that I’ve never truly felt burned out. And while I don’t harbor any grand secrets as to how to avoid burnout, I can share a few approaches I’ve relied on over the years that have kept me from abandoning my legal career and helped keep it interesting.
Don’t be afraid to change lanes
I began my career as a tax lawyer. It was the middle of the dot com boom, and I could not see myself spending the next 20 years buried in a law library researching arcane tax issues. I wanted to be a corporate lawyer. As you can imagine, this was not a comfortable conversation for a first-year associate to have with a partner, but being honest with myself and being brave (or stupid) enough to pursue another path led me to find, and ultimately flourish, in a field of law that I did enjoy.
Billable hours matter, but so do pro-bono pursuits
If you’re an associate (or even a partner) at most law firms, you know billable hours matter — and in reality, you need to do more than meet the minimum requirement if you plan to stand out and advance. So while I love the notion of going dark after 9pm or taking weekends and holidays off, it’s simply not realistic for most lawyers. What is realistic is devoting some of your time and skills to a charitable cause. Not only does it help add balance to your life and your resume, but it can help replenish the parts of your soul left scoured by those 2 AM nights and weekends and holidays spent away from your family and tied to your laptop.
Play outside of your sandbox
While I’m sure opinions on this will vary, in my career, seeking out opportunities that exposed me to different areas of the law proved enormously worthwhile when I made the transition in-house. Working in-house often requires you to have a broader and more general knowledge base. Even though the focus of my law firm practice was representing public companies in corporate finance, corporate governance, and M&A transactions, I was never shy to express my interest in working on things that fell outside of my core area of practice. Doing so kept me stimulated and gave me the chance to work with and learn from other lawyers in (and outside of) the firm while exposing me to other areas of law like commercial contracts, litigation management, IP, and real estate. Once I went in-house, my acquaintance with different areas of practice helped prepare me to tackle a wider plethora of issues with slightly more confidence.
Find a mentor, or even better, become one
At almost every point in my career, I’ve had at least one mentor who I’ve been able to seek counsel and advice from. Sometimes my mentors have offered guidance around professional opportunities that have arisen, and other times they’ve acted as sounding boards for professional frustrations I’ve encountered over the years. Whatever the capacity in which I’ve utilized them, their input and interest in my career has been immeasurably valuable. As I progressed in my own career, I welcomed opportunities to mentor my younger colleagues. Not only does it force you to offer a balanced and positive perspective (so as not to scare off and discourage new associates), but it enables you to recall and reconnect to the wide-eyed enthusiasm and hopefulness with which you started your own career. It’s a powerful reminder, usually when you need it most, that practicing law can still be rewarding.