Congratulations! You’ve almost made it through your first month as a lawyer.
(We know you’re still a law clerk, but close enough.) You should be proud of what you’ve learned and accomplished so far.
The stereotypes about lawyers and their lack of work-life balance persist for a reason, but they don’t have to be true for you—at least not all the time. A legal career is more like a marathon than a sprint. You’ll need to learn balance to have an enduring, healthy, and successful career while enjoying your non-work life fully.
The beginning of any career is exciting, and you’re rightly going to want to work hard and prove yourself. However, keep in mind that being a lawyer is only one part of your life. It’s important to continue to place value on your life outside of work. Your health, hobbies, personal relationships, and relaxation time are going to continue to need attention—all while you juggle tasks, keep on top of your billing, network, continue to attend trainings, and impress the managing attorneys and partners. That sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Well, you absolutely can handle all those things while still having a life as long as you form good habits early.
Getting enough sleep is one of the main pillars of good health. You’ll likely find getting a full seven to eight hours every night pretty tricky as the billable hours rack up, you’re involved in closings til the wee hours, and even your weekends are sometimes consumed by work. The goal, then, must become to prioritize sleep when you can and practice good sleep hygiene as often as possible. To achieve this with an often-changing schedule of many late nights, you’ll need to cut down on certain activities during the workweek, like tv-watching and hitting happy hour with friends every Tuesday and Thursday. (Less drinking will help you sleep better, anyway.) When you get out of the office at a decent hour, take that time to ready yourself for the next day and get a full night’s sleep. Your body will thank you for it by feeling energetic and allowing you to focus better.
Have a sleep ritual that you follow as many nights as you’re able. A sleep ritual signals your body and mind that it’s time to slow down and get ready to rest. You might take a quick shower, meditate, lightly stretch for ten minutes, or listen to soothing music. One important thing to avoid is any kind of screen about two hours before you’d like to fall asleep—often difficult for lawyers who may need to do a few hours of work before bed. Just do your best to have screen-free time for as long as possible before you need to sleep. And of course: No working in bed. (Seriously. Don’t do it.)
Eating well is another important part of staying healthy while tackling such a demanding job and schedule. It’s tempting to order out for every meal when you’re working long hours—but your waistline, your blood pressure, your cholesterol—and ultimately, your energy level—will thank you for planning ahead to avoid it when you can. So sure, you can partake in the heavy Italian food that was ordered once your working group realized you’d all have to stay for several more hours, but what did you have for lunch and breakfast? Cook your own meals when you can and stock your desk with healthy snacks to tide you over when you’re busy.
And yes, cooking your own meals—at least part of the time—is possible, no matter how busy you are. Even if you have to mark up a bunch of briefs and review documents on the weekend, you can do meal prep and have a few meals ready to go for the week. Think about both nutrition and convenience when shopping: Individually packaged oatmeal for breakfast can travel to the office with you while you munch on an apple during your commute. Have a few healthier go-to options you can order from for days you need to buy lunch. Again, planning ahead is the name of the game.
You also must fit exercise into your lawyer life; you’ll just need to make a few adjustments. First, remember that the benefits of exercise are cumulative. A ten-minute walk between meetings, taking the stairs every chance you get, getting off two subway stops early, and even using a standing desk for part of the day will all add up. If you like the gym, you’ll likely need to simply get used to going really early or really late, and focus on using your time more efficiently so you can get in and out in, say, 40 minutes rather than an hour. And you can always commit to longer workouts on the weekends.
It’s normal to be a little anxious about how you’re doing in this new role. Mitigate your worries by focusing on what’s in front of you rather than constantly second-guessing yourself. Practicing mindfulness—being in the moment and experiencing the present rather than worrying about the past or future—can help you focus and feel less stress.
Speaking of stress: It’s a reality for a new lawyer, a seasoned lawyer, a partner; it’s simply a feature of the job. The sooner you develop a plan to handle it, the better. Doing things you enjoy that help you relax will ensure your stress level never gets to an overwhelming point. Exercise is not just for your body; it also relaxes and energizes the mind. Deep breathing, short meditation sessions, and light stretching are also good ways to help alleviate stress throughout challenging workdays.
If you have a challenging or exhausting day, don’t get bogged down questioning your career decisions. It’s not unusual for a new lawyer to freak out a little when things start to get hectic. Evaluate how you’re doing when you’re calm, not when you’re rushing around on high alert. And give yourself at least three months to get a full sense of how you really fit in at the firm, what’s working, and where you need to improve. Periodically check in with yourself as time goes by and you get more comfortable in the role.
Your Personal Life
Look, we all need human interaction, no matter how many client calls we’re scheduled to sit in on or how many hours we’ll need to review contracts. It can be easy for personal relationships to fall by the wayside when you’re busy, but it’s important to make the effort. You may not be able to grab dinner with them as often as you’d like, but you can always keep in touch with your friends and family by text, phone, or video chat while walking to grab lunch or even during your commute. Even if you have work to do on some weekends, you should make scheduling in-person time with those important to you a priority.
You should also be able to squeeze in time for the hobbies and activities you’ve always enjoyed. Don’t be so eager to show you’re a go-getter by giving up the things that bring you joy and becoming isolated. You really don’t have to choose work over everything else. Remember, we’re talking about work-life balance here—your goal is to crush it at work while balancing the rest of your life. A new lawyer who never goes to trivia night anymore, eats all meals at the office, and hasn’t done anything unrelated to the law in weeks is not exactly having a life.
Scheduling is Key
Your calendar is your friend not only for work, but also for your life outside of work. It can be tricky to schedule every little thing when your work hours are often unpredictable—there will always be last-minute changes because you were invited to sit in on an hour-long call at the last minute, or a motion was just filed that now requires hours of research, or that Tuesday afternoon client meeting has now been moved up to Monday morning. Remember how we talked about mastering your calendar in Week Three, and how being able to look ahead for weeks can help you manage your time? The same approach can also help you achieve better work-life balance. If you can schedule at least part of your life in advance, you’ll be less likely to miss out or damage relationships by always cancelling.
The saying “work smarter, not harder” continues to exist because it’s true. Your time, both at the firm and at home, is valuable, and being efficient is a big part of being able to balance all aspects of the busy lawyer life. It takes intentionality and a goal-oriented mindset, and you can absolutely do it.