Work-Life Balance: An unattainable goal, or to everything is there a season?
By: Jacob George Straub

When I was first approached to write this article, I thought I could have nothing new to add to this topic.

However, as I sat in my study, reading yet another history book, a flash of inspiration came to me (like a thunderbolt from the heavens). If my studies of history had taught me nothing else, they showed me that there is truly nothing new under the sun.

In medieval times, the cycle of religious festivals granted a reprieve from toil to the common laborer.

In modern times, the 40-hour work week granted blue-collar laborers free time to enjoy the fruits of the Industrial Revolution.

Today, it seems legal culture demands we work without ceasing, and technology tethers us to our jobs, rather than liberating us as it did our grandparents who labored in factories and on farms.

What can we learn from our forebears about balancing our responsibilities?

First, by having something outside of our work to take pride in, and that forms the core of our identity. To work to live, rather than to live to work. For example, I was chairman of my parish festival in 2016. When I was working on the festival, I was granted a release from my worries about work (I had a festival to worry about). For others, things such as hiking allow them to relax. As the serfs had a break from their work on the turf by feasting, we as lawyers should seek outside interests. Physical activity, such as running or yoga, can help (doing downward dog can prevent you from feeling down).

Secondly, we can learn to limit our time devoted to the job, like our grandparents did. A caveat—for those of my friends who must check their email every hour, you have made your Faustian bargain. I am speaking in this paragraph to my less highly compensated colleagues. Turn off the phone, don’t check your email, and enjoy the pleasure of a good book, a good meal, a good drink (of course, only in moderation), and good company. Be present in the moment. Checking your email after hours and on the weekends, when the courts are closed, will do little to help you get ahead of the competition, but will help make you a burned out and exhausted young attorney. As a solo, I find it is especially important to set firm boundaries with clients and explain expectations on access before you are hired by a potential client. Some people want attorneys that are available 24/7, and I make clear to people that I am simply not the attorney for them if that is what they expect; I refer them to attorneys who can meet this expectation. Technology can improve productivity, but only if it doesn’t serve as a constant stressor in our lives. Whenever I receive an email from an attorney stating something to the effect of “I saw your email, I am on vacation, but will get back with you when I am back in the office…” my response is “you are on vacation, don’t worry about your emails. They will be here when you return.”

Thirdly, there are times when work-life balance simply cannot exist. There are times in all of our practices when we are swamped. At those times, it is important to plan vacations well in advance to rest and recharge oneself. For example, if you practice residential real estate law, you know the summer is a busy time for closings. Maybe you have to work 80 hours a week during the summer. However, if the fall is a slow time, take a week or two off after Labor Day to hike, go dove hunting (my personal favorite), or just unwind somewhere that is not your office or neighborhood. A tip: Leave your hometown for a vacation. Staycations do not work as an attorney; clients will find you.

I hope this article, despite the bad puns, has shown that it is possible to have work-life balance. However, it is something that takes constant effort. It is important to remember that our identity as lawyers is only a part of who we are. As a wise mentor told me as a brand new attorney, “At the end of your life, you will not wish that you had spent more time in the office….” The obvious corollary is to not want to wish you had spent more time with family and friends.

Jacob George Straub (a/k/a “Chicago” to his Baylor Law classmates) is a solo practitioner in West, Texas (the city not the region) who devotes a majority of his practice to real estate and probate work. He loves being a country attorney and enjoys serving up a deep-dish serving of Texas justice, Chicago-style.

Views and opinions expressed in eNews are those of their authors and not necessarily those of the Texas Young Lawyers Association or the State Bar of Texas.

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