Read an Excerpt
How to Balance Your Job and Having a Life
Excerpted from Sisters-in-Law by Lisa G. Sherman and Deborah L. Turchiano © 2004
If there's one consistent theme you'll hear about practicing law time and time again, it's how stressed out and time deprived we Sisters are as a result of our jobs. The source of the stress tends to be fourfold. First, as a result of billable hour requirements, many of us obsessively keep track of all of our hours to date, constantly running Einstein-like calculations of how many more hours it will take to reach our minimum yearly quotas. Second, when you work for someone else (i.e., partners with unreasonable demands), your life is in not your own and you feel completely out of control. This results in your having panic attacks after finally hitting your pillow at 1 a.m., when you start thinking I didn't get enough work done today. What if someone gives me an emergency assignment and I don't have time to finalize this brief?
Third, and perhaps most significantly, your client's fate is in your hands and you don't want to screw up someone else's affairs. There are hundreds of little things to remember (like discovery deadlines) and there's always another argument that can be made or researched on behalf of your client. Basically, you feel like your job is never done, and even when it is, you could have done it better. Lastly, much of what we do in law is extremely time sensitive (i.e., always urgent), yet at the same time tremendously laborious. Everyone wants something yesterday that in reality would take until next week to thoroughly complete.
The result of these intense pressures is that many of us never leave our office and even when we do, it's only in the physical sense. Sometimes, however, even physically leaving the office becomes more stressful than staying put. There's the chance that you'll miss an important client or partner call or worse yet, be unreachable if someone urgently needs the answer to a critical question and only you know that answer. Once your memory of what it's like to have a life outside of work fades, your office may not seem like the worst vacation destination anymore.
As a result, some of us get so wrapped up with work that we completely lose touch with reality. Take, for example, the eleven-page memorandum the battered associates at Clifford Chance delivered to the firm after it came in dead last in the 2002 American Lawyer Associate Survey. The infamous memorandum spelled out exactly what the associates thought was wrong with the place and offered some suggestions for how their quality of life could be improved. The memo included among other things:
? put plates and utensils in pantries at the firm, so that people working late can avoid eating out of containers;
? set up a recreation room with a TV; and,
? provide concierge service for dry-cleaning.
Of course, had these associates not been brainwashed into thinking that working 24/7 was the norm, their wish-list may have contained requests like:
? I'd like to eat dinner at home with my family;
? I'd like to watch TV in my own living room at night; or,
? I'd like to get out of this place before 7 p.m. some nights so I could actually make it to pick up at my own dry cleaning.
It should be no mystery why so many lawyers are unhappy and unhealthy. We work too much and then we become convinced that this is normal behavior. Every hour spent working is one less hour spent doing something pleasurable, but soon we forget what pleasurable means. And don't think for a second that, no matter how hard you work and how high you bill, anyone (besides your mother) will ever tell you to take a break, go home, plan a vacation, or do something decadent and nonlaw-related once in a while.
That's where we come in. We're here to tell you that you need to find ways to de-stress, whether its blowing off steam while you are chained to your desk, taking breaks, or making the most of your time away from the office. So relax and join us in a very nonwork-related journey.
CHAINED TO YOUR DESK
Sometimes Sisters just can't tear themselves away from the office because they are swamped with work and imminent deadlines. Other times, they hang out when they really don't have to be there because they buy into Dilbert's theory that appearances are everything. In other words, you believe that doing face time in the office and looking busy even if you're not must somehow be important to your career. If you find yourself stuck in the office for either of the above reasons, there are still three therapies, so to speak, you can employ to blow off steam while chained to your desk.
Your Electronic Therapist (aka your Computer)
Pass by any lawyer's office on any given day, and if they are not on the phone or with a visitor, chances are they will be deep in concentration hacking away at their computers. Are they always working on the deal of the century? Of course not! Let's face it, preparing your profile for an online dating service looks pretty much the same as revising provisions of a zillion dollar contract. For many of us, the electronic therapist is the best form of relaxing and taking a brain-break. Because most of us are glued to the computer the vast majority of the workday, high-speed access to the world outside the office has become the "digital equivalent of a smoking break." Let's consider how Sisters use the magic box to de-stress.
For many of us working long hours, email is the last vestige of communication we have to the outside world. Many of us live for the welcoming ping or instant message that so rudely interrupts our real work. If we haven't received any e-candy in over a half-hour, we start neurotically pressing the refresh button to make sure we haven't missed anything from our friends or boytoys. For some of us, we can live two offices away from a Bingin' and Bitchin' Buddy, yet most of our conversations may be had over the magic box.
Besides serving as a critical distraction to boring document review, Sisters love email because it offers completely neutral delivery of any message, even from the most evil
partner. Why? Because it is generally devoid of human emotion.
Yelling, stomping, and degrading tones are undeliverable. It's virtually impossible to detect the mood of the sender and/or tone of the message in most cases (the exception being when you insert those little yellow smiley faces at the bottom of your emails to friends) even though you may spend half a day obsessively dissecting every word to try to figure out what was really meant by the sender. And from the sender side, of course, what better way to appease your passive aggressive tendencies than to give the boot to Mr. Mediocrity by advising him in writing of your unavailability to see him in the next few decades.
Email is also a handy enabler of many of our Sisterly disorders. Our Perfection Disorder is fostered by the email routine. We type, review, revise seven times, save as draft, review in a few hours when we've had a chance to think about things, and then send, but only after checking three times to make sure each recipient is correct. Of course, by the time we hit send, all that is left is the subject line because we're so neurotic about our written words (which can't be taken back or denied) being misinterpreted, printed, and shown to the rest of the world.
Nothing could be better for our Anal-Retentive Disorder than to have the ability to file, subfile, cleanup, delete, and save to archives all important information for eternity right inside the magic box, with no color-coated sticky-tabs needed!
And finally, we don't even need to tell you how we play the Multitasking Madness game with email. We can have a blow out fight (and win, of course) with our boyfriends via instant messaging all the while participating on an overseas conference call, drafting schedules to a deal document, and doing isometric stomach crunches. Oftentimes, the mere banging away on the keyboard in a message to your girlfriend about how inconsiderate your husband may be acting (with the most egregious behavior always spelled out in capital letters) is therapeutic in and of itself because it takes four times longer to type the story than to tell it. By the time you hit send, your anxiety has dissipated.
Although e-therapy has its pluses, it's possible that at some point, due to our total reliance on email as our sole source of communication, we will lose the ability to talk to people in person. Any method of communication that doesn't allow us to quash our emotions and draft, redraft, save draft, and revisit later to reedit before delivering will eventually scare the B-Jesus out of us.
Could there be anything better than typing any word in the whole English language into Saint Google and getting a million hits instantaneously? Whether it's looking for a piece of information or just feeding our tired heads some brain candy, Sisters spend more time than they are willing to admit surfing the Web for periodic stress relief.
From the comfort of your office chair, you can check your stock portfolio (which is generally closely followed by a Niemanmarcus.com visit if the market it up), plan your next vacation, read the recipe of the day on Epicurious.com, and watch a movie trailer, all while looking like you are working on a very important project. There is no doubt that the World Wide Web is God's gift to Sisters and other repressed, office-chained, tortured soles.
Did you know that 59% of the $45 billion in U.S. Web purchases in 2002 originated from the workplace, compared with 37% from home and 4% from schools? Even more shocking is that online shopping seems to begin with an average workday, jump noticeably around 10:00 a.m. and steadily build up through noon. It drops between noon and one p.m. (the typical lunch break) and then rises again between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. as the workday ends (for nonlawyers, that is). Of course, women account for more than half of all online shoppers and we suspect that the Sister population accounts for a healthy chunk of these buyers.
Since most of us don't have time to hit the stores during the week (and for many of us, during the weekends), there really isn't any time left in the day to shop outside the office. For us, there is no better therapy than spending our hard earned greenbacks without leaving the comfort of our offices. A few simple clicks of a button (usually occurring at the tail end of two hours of Web window shopping and price comparisons) and a thousand dollars later ($300 of which are overnight delivery fees) gets you the fruits of your labor delivered right to your LASS-producing chair.
Your Live Therapists (aka Bitching)
As much as the magic box can fulfill most of our therapeutic needs, there are times when you crave interaction with a warm body who has a pulse. Sometimes, there's only one way to deal with the stressful practice of law without internally combusting: bitching, complaining, kvetching (Yiddish for black-belt, master complaining), grumbling, nagging, nitpicking, and whining about how much everything sucks to anyone who will listen. For many of us, nothing is more therapeutic than storming into a colleague's office, closing the door, and venting (and for many of us in the early years, crying) about the BBQ who just chewed you up and spit you out. The scenario usually goes something like this.
You run into your Bingin' and Bitchin' Buddy's office and threaten to: (1) quit; (2) give up your personal trainer; (3) sell your Hamptons share; and, (4) open a flower shop. After consuming 300 M&M's, you are calmly reminded by your friend that: (1) you are florally challenged; (2) because all of the other people in your Hamptons house are lawyers, there is a transferability restriction on your share; and, (3) without a personal trainer, you would have three LASSes instead of one. Before you know it, you have calmed down, regained your composure and even discussed how you may go about tackling the memo from hell (thereby rendering the entire bitching session billable).
If all of your top therapists are out of the office, you may venture outside your four walls. Pick up the phone and call any of your Sisters at other firms to commiserate. If things get really bad, you may wish to turn to the most sympathetic of all therapists-your mother. Although she knows how perfect you are and can do no wrong, keep in mind that using her services may come at a price. Even after you recover from your meltdown, she will never forgive the perpetrator of your sorrows and nag you for the next ten years to leave the firm or go back to med school.