Waiting to Exhale

This is from my president's column in 2007.

I am buzzing around the office and pop in to say hi to our new associate, Mimy Bailey.  We ask about each other’s weekends (I worked through mine) and she just looks at me.  What?  I say.  And it tumbles out, the familiar words – how do you have time for everything?

My goal when speaking to young attorneys is to inspire.  But perhaps what I’m really doing is causing great fear.

Our cases can become consuming.  Our adversaries are always unrelenting.  They have enormous resources and we are usually fighting uphill battles.  Our clients are humans who need our personal touch and help even while we are in the midst of heavy litigation.  Added to this, we work on a contingency fee basis and need to manage our businesses.  And for some of us, there is the calling to serve WSTLA or other nonprofits to give back to society.

A few years ago there was a story in the popular media with a quiz you could take to see if you were a “workaholic”.  Predictably, I passed with flying colors.  But there are many hazards involved when one works too much.  Even though we may love what we do with great passion and not consider it to be a chore – it is still work.  And there is always more work that can be done.

The answer to Mimy’s question of course, is that we don’t have time for everything.  We juggle and prioritize our work, family, friends, and personal pursuits.  And rarely if ever do we achieve a serene sense that our life is perfectly or even well balanced.

For some of us there is guilt because to serve a client, we must miss a child’s school event.  Or we watch our personal health deteriorate because we’re too busy to take care of ourselves.  Or we rarely see friends because they are at the bottom of our “must dos”.

There are lawyers who believe “the client must come first.” But there is a lesson that flight attendants teach.  If oxygen masks are needed, the adult should secure the mask onto their face first and only then, should they secure the mask on their child or others in need of help.  Why?  Because if you can’t breathe you can’t help others.

Recent studies have recounted the disproportionately high attrition rate of female attorneys from the practice of law.  Family issues account for much of the exodus.  How does an attorney practice 50 hours a week (or way more) and still have adequate time for spouse and children.   My best friend is a defense lawyer with three children.  She always worked more than full time throughout.  On the other hand, I worked part time until my youngest child entered kindergarten.  There is no rule, there is no correct formula.  It is disheartening to see younger attorneys avoiding our profession due to “quality of life” concerns.

Getting back to Mimy’s question.  While we may not have time to do everything, what we are able to do can be amazing.  We secure justice for injured people.  We protect our society from the insurance industry’s attempts to dismantle our civil justice system.   I am filled with joy at the thought of the good that we do.  Yet woven betwixt our work lives are many other important layers - all deserving of time, attention and dedication.

Which is why as I write this, even though my calendar is solid, I am with my kids up in the mountains.