Contentment and Grace in the Law
The terms “contentment” and “grace” appear to be an oxymoron to the term “practicing law”. A lot of days seem like a grind of emails, phone calls, coffee getting cold before you drink it, fires to put out, ornery opposing counsel, and clients upset with the status of their case. Through the years, I have worked hard to come up with guidelines to make the days and weeks more manageable. These suggestions work for me and are ever changing, but taking a more mindful approach to my practice has made for a more content me.
- Early to bed, early to rise. This was really life changing for me. I used to work late, and then the next day was very unproductive as I walked about like a zombie. I was amazed at how productive I could be in the morning. I have the luxury of having an office very close to my house. Some mornings, I’ll go in at 5 a.m. in my workout clothes and work for a few hours. I’ll try to get in a workout in the morning, and then go home and get dressed for the day (suit for court, less-formal business attire for meetings days). Those few hours in the morning are very productive. . There are no phone calls, very few incoming emails, no walk-ins, no other employees. I can get done in two hours what I can get done in six or seven hours on a regular day.
- Check your email first thing in the morning. I have read time management tips that have advised to wait a few hours before you check your email. For attorneys, I do not think that works. We get a lot of our court rulings by email. Clients will email in the evening for things that they need the next day. Going through your email immediately, maps your day and lets you know if there are any fires to put out before you get to work.
- Do one thing at a time. I spent years thinking I was amazing at multitasking, but really I was amazing at getting nothing done and usually spilling my coffee in my keyboard while I accomplished nothing.
- Clean your desk. Having an open workspace makes me feel so much better.
- Stay off social media while trying to work. Nothing makes you feel worse than seeing your friends in Paris while you sit at your desk drafting a contract. It is also a time hog. I could easily spend hours going down the wormhole of Twitter or Facebook, instead of being productive.
- When you drive to court or meetings, do not try to conduct business. First of all, it’s dangerous. Second, it will make you feel frazzled. My tip is to listen to a podcast as I drive from place to place. I drive A LOT every month…sometimes over 2,000 miles. (I live close to my office, but not close to the courts.)
- Take at least one day a week off…not a half day, not a few hours, a whole day. I spent years working seven days per week and not taking any vacations. One December, the only day that I took off was December 25th. I was unproductive and miserable. Taking one day per week to recharge is a necessity.
- Schedule non-work activities. I had a period of time where I did not take a vacation for over 7 years. I kept waiting for things to calm down. Guess what? They never did. In order to get to do things that I need to stay alive, I began scheduling it. I schedule time with a trainer two times per week. I schedule family get-togethers. I have a standing appointment with myself to take a long walk every Saturday.
- Schedule blocks of time to get work done. We are used to scheduling court hearings, meetings, depositions, etc., but we generally do not schedule time to complete everything else we have to do. Some weeks, I would be scheduled every day, all day with court and meetings. I really can’t control court hearings, but after years, I decided I could control my meeting scheduling. In the past, if someone wanted a meeting and if there was nothing filled in, I would schedule a meeting. These days I take a mindful approach to scheduling. I try not to schedule meetings when I have busy court days or days where I have a brief due the next day. I will also try to block schedule meetings (schedule 5-6 meetings over a four hour period). I can then get meetings out of the way, and then concentrate on what I need to get done in terms of court preparation or motion writing.
- Preplan vacations. Referring back to #7, I did not take a vacation for approximately 7 years. I kept waiting for an opening. I would look at my calendar, and it would be clear about 4 months ahead. I would say, “I’ll take a vacation then.” That never worked, not once. My schedule was always filled by the time that I got to that mystical 4 month mark. Not only does planning vacations mean that I actually get to take them, but I also get the happiness that comes from planning the vacation and knowing that a vacation is around the bend.
- Go through your mail every day. Having stacks of mail around is upsetting. Take five minutes, and toss, sort and handle the day’s mail.
- Make your office your happy place. My office looked the same for 10 years. It had a big brown desk, big black chair, and big brown credenza. So boring! Last year, I decided to turn my office into an office that looked like a fashion editor’s office. I now have a white desk, red chair, white shelves, a red meeting table with while chairs, and a chalkboard which everyone in the office writes on when they come into my office. Surround yourself with good lighting, color on the walls, and art that makes you happy.
- Have a routine, but do not fret when you need to break it. Each day, I know there are things that I need to get to: emails, phone calls, mail, supervising employees. These are part of my every day routine, but I also need to throw in my big projects: transcript review, court hearings, meetings, motion and brief writing, research. There’s a routine, but I can’t lose it when I need to work on other things.
- Work in weird places. Sometimes my office is the worst place for me to work. The interruptions can be too much. Also, it is hard to quiet my mind because I am anticipating calls and emails. Some days, I’ll grab my tablet and a legal pad and go read transcripts in a coffee shop or quiet restaurant or hotel lobby.
- At the end of the day, embrace your inner Scarlett O’ Hara (“After all, tomorrow is another day!”), or for younger people, your inner Elsa (“Let it Go!”). Tomorrow the emails and work will still be there. Go home! See your family, have dinner, binge watch some Sex and the City
Thank you for reading these helpful hints that I developed for myself or the years. I would love to hear what brings contentment and grace in your practice.