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David Warburton global, Lawyer, Asia...

Many in the legal fraternity are pondering the subject of work-life balance at the moment, not only as the tragic story of the passing of a ‘biglaw’ Partner has returned to the front pages of the legal press, but also as many of us look forward to the Christmas holidays and (hopefully) the reduced workload that precedes it.

Given the nature of practising at a top corporate law firm – in terms of standards, deadlines, work complexity and culture – it is unlikely we’ll see the pendulum swing dramatically toward the ‘life’ side of the work-life dichotomy any time soon. Perhaps the most helpful way of addressing the subject is to start with what can be done to alleviate pressure and restore a degree of balance. What follows may not be a total solution to the work-life balance conundrum but could assist you in making some beneficial changes.

1. Swing for the fences (i.e. make some big changes)
Perhaps the hardest but most impactful change we can make is to introduce flexibility to our work lives, be that working from home one or two days per week, working part-time, securing a flexible hours arrangement or something similar. This often requires ‘buy-in’ at an organisational level, although is becoming more common, and even the most progressive employers had to start somewhere. Many of the law firms we recruit for have told us of Partners working 4 days per week, or starting at 09:30 every day to accommodate the school run e.t.c. If your firm doesn’t have such precedents to follow, maybe you could break new ground? 

2. Could you look into this for me? (i.e. delegate)
Where possible, consider whether a task could be delegated to someone else with greater capacity and sufficient expertise. If they lack the latter, perhaps in the long-run you’d be better training them to handle certain tasks, than accepting the short-term fix of doing it yourself. Sure, it’s simpler and quicker to do it yourself, but is it sustainable?

3. Oh well..
 (i.e. forget perfectionism)
Connected to the above (2.), perhaps your colleague has the capacity and capability to do a task, but you fear they won’t do to your standard! For the sake of avoiding burnout, it might help to make peace with the fact that part of a project could be done to only a passable standard, without compromising the whole.

4. Focus! (i.e. try not to check email every other minute)
How many times have you checked your email today? Was it the last task you did prior to clicking this article, or will it be the next thing you do after finishing it? Not only does checking email consume time itself, it will inevitably take you off task by introducing a constant stream of fresh distractions and things that require re-focusing the mind. How much more productive and focused might we be if we logged off our emails while at work, even just for one hour each day?

5. Just say no (i.e. we all have limits)
Do we accept a task or invitation simply because we feel obliged or pressured? If so, our ‘to-do’ list may easily get out of hand. Consider pausing and asking yourself whether the task/invitation is something you should accept and want to engage with. Delay your reply if necessary. Assessing individual requests with clarity may help us recognise the number of things we accept without even thinking.

​6. Spend it wisely
 (i.e. annual leave, public holidays e.t.c.)
“What did you get up to with your week off?” When asked by a colleague, are you likely to report a great trip overseas where you enjoyed a full seven days of relaxing in the sun, or a week spent clearing out the garage/loft, running errands or tackling projects in the garden? The latter category can be necessary and satisfying, but if you’ve identified potential burnout on the horizon, time spent doing nothing but relaxing might be the wiser choice (and the more enjoyable!).

7. Switch off (i.e. step away from the phone/laptop/tablet)
Even if you don’t increase the quantity of your personal time, you can increase the quality, and thus the benefit you derive from it re: enjoyment, connection and relaxation. How many of us check emails over the dinner table, take the odd work call while on the sofa, or log on at 11pm just to check we haven’t missed something? Having recognised which we are guilty of, next consider which honestly couldn’t wait until 9am the following day.

If this topic is of interest to you, we’d be glad to discuss work-life balance as it relates to the world of law firms in whichever location relates to you. To speak to a specialist consultant, contact us on : +44 161 870 6776 or 

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