Friday, July 24, 2009

Work-Life Balance, Should a Criminal Lawyer Have Any?

Would lawyer burnout surprise you? Not likely, and even less so if you read  this great post from Houston, Texas, criminal defense lawyer, Mark Bennett, that lays out the issue of work-life balance from the criminal lawyer's perspective. A great read that makes you think.

Mark lays out the problem:

We lawyers are a pretty messed-up bunch—more emotionally and psychologically messed-up than the mean. We suffer from higher incidences of alcoholism, drug abuse, and depression than the general population.

The lawyer whose career is his whole life, who defines himself in terms of his prowess as a lawyer, is in for disappointment and trouble. Because if you are your successes, then when a case doesn’t end as hoped, you are the failure. A common sequel: the fruitless search for fulfillment in ultimately self-destructive behavior.

Interesting. Sounds like leaders and executives in other other professions I've worked with ...

When we define ourselves by what we do we are already headed down a slippery slope. What we do is to be an expression of who we are, not the determinant. But if allowed, it can become all consuming and what we do can become a vivid picture of who we have allowed ourselves to become.

Mark makes the case:

The lawyer who can strike a healthy balance between clients and family, between career and avocation, between work and life is going to be happier and more fulfilled than the lawyer whose personal life is in smoking rubble because of his monomaniacal fixation on being Lawyer. In other words, a lawyer is a better lawyer when he is happier and more fulfilled.

Then the part about real life and the reality of a balanced human body,  mind and soul.

When we’re in trial the clash is most obvious: we work 16- or 18-hour days, and our families cope. Even when we’re not in trial, though, clients’ problems don’t keep bankers’ hours.

Still, even the accused benefit from balance because balance is essential to creativity. If our clients need our creativity (they do), they can’t afford for us to bill 2300+ hours a year (sleep less), spend every waking hour at our desks (exercise less), and eat at the office (eat worse), all of which are crushing to creativity.

Mark doesn't offer solutions in this post. There is an existing culture and system that precludes easy solutions. That didn't seem to be his purpose. But the way he comments on the issue is excellent.

If we had jobs rather than vocations—if, for example, we worked in offices counting widgets or with Thomas DiCicco in a Boca boiler room lying to people—there would be nothing at work competing with our responsibility to take care of  our families. We could arrive at work at 8:00, have an hour to ourselves for lunch, cut out at 5:00 and leave the job behind. Work-life balance would be easy.

Doesn't that ring true for most leaders and executives? Work isn't always a simple formula of 8 to 5, with an hour for lunch. We work every day to bring balance into our schedule. Some leaders and executives can make it happen and either don't know how or don't wish to for other reasons. For others of us, balance is a hard fought victory when we do gain it.

Those of us looking on obviously want the best lawyers possible working on criminal cases. Read Mark's post and get a glimpse of the real life challenges faced by the professional who not only wants to give their best but wants to have a life that allows them to have some best to give.

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