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Work/Life Balance

A Long Night’s Journey Into Day

I used to be the type of lawyer who woke up early and headed into the office.  On my commute, my head would be full of ideas about my files, firm management, and marketing.  I would call and leave messages for my staff and associates or call clients and referral sources to say hello and stay ‘top of mind.’  My commute was part of my workday, and I tried to make it as productive as possible.  When the calls were about files, I would be sure to remember to docket the time when I got back to the office.  I would do the same on the way home and put my dockets in remotely when I arrived.  

Often, I worked into the early evening so I could drive home after rush hour and then worked again at home.

On the days that I rushed home to take my son to his baseball game or my daughter to her soccer game, I would often work on files, read law reports, or speak to colleagues about files from the sidelines.

You might think that having devoted my work week so completely to the practice of law, I would take the weekends off and enjoy life.  But no.  I would work on the weekends and when my children were small, I would work or read law reports while I ‘watched’ them at their swim groups or other activities.

Work-life balance was not even a thing yet when I was a young lawyer. Or even a middle-aged lawyer. By the time it was a thing, I was pretty set in my ways.

And then one day, devoting my every waking moment to my career suddenly stopped making any sense to me and I wondered why it ever had. A small health scare provoked me to start thinking differently.

I started plotting my way out, first unconsciously, and then very consciously.

First, I rented a house on Cape Cod for all of June, July, and August one summer.  I worked most of every day, but I had no commute and I enjoyed all of my time off.

The next summer I rented a house for three months on a lake in cottage country.  Again, I worked remotely, but I also started to negotiate my withdrawal as a partner from my firm. 

About a year later I withdrew as a partner from my firm and stayed on as ‘Senior Counsel’.   I worked remotely almost exclusively for 3 more years, gradually reducing my time commitment until I was working about half as much as I used to.  I started going to the gym almost every day.

Finally, I retired and moved to the country and started walking or hiking in the woods for an hour or more most days.

Today I like to keep busy with writing, mentoring, or teaching for about an hour and a half each day.  Not on consecutive days.  Or on days when it is warm outside.

I honestly cannot remember why devoting myself to work at the expense of health and family ever made any sense to me whatsoever.

Postscript

I was happy with what I wrote above and more than prepared to leave it at that.  Shorter is better, and all of that.

But I showed the above article to my wife, who, as always, had a comment. She said: “The young folks are going to say: ‘That’s easy for you to say Murray, as you live off of your investments in your retirement.  The investments that you accumulated by working so hard.’”

She did not convince me.  I have friends who were teachers or government lawyers who did not work the way that I did and who are now living quite nicely off of their pensions. Also, I can only imagine how much I could have saved on nannies, housekeepers, and all manner of service providers who I paid to do what I never had the time to do.

I remain convinced that there are other and better paths.

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