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Managing Work-Life Balance: Insights from Top Lawyers


Achieving a healthy work-life balance is essential for individual well-being and crucial for sustaining long-term success in the legal profession.

Finding equilibrium between professional responsibilities and personal well-being can often feel like walking a tightrope. The demands of court deadlines, client expectations, and corporate obligations can quickly blur the lines between work and life. However, achieving a healthy work-life balance is not only essential for individual well-being but crucial for sustaining long-term success in the legal profession.

Here are some practical tips to help civil defense attorneys and in-house counsel manage their workload while nurturing a fulfilling personal life.

1. Prioritize and Organize

Start by setting clear priorities for your work and personal life. Identify tasks that require immediate attention and those that can be deferred. Utilize tools such as to-do lists, calendars, or project management software to organize your workload efficiently. Prioritizing tasks helps you allocate your time and energy effectively, reducing stress and preventing burnout.

Here are some tips from DRI members on prioritizing and organizing your work:

“In a fast-paced work environment, it's easy to overlook personal well-being. However, maintaining a healthy balance is essential for long-term productivity and professional growth. This means taking time for oneself, setting boundaries, and ensuring mental and physical health are prioritized.”

Sara M. Turner, a shareholder at Baker Donelson Bearman Caldwell & Berkowitz in Birmingham, Alabama

Call opposing counsel as early as possible. [This] establishes rapport and usually provides information and insight about the case early.”

– Thomas McRoy Shelley, III, head of the litigation department at Rogers Townsend & Thomas in Columbia, South Carolina

2. Establish Boundaries

Set boundaries between work and personal time to prevent work from encroaching on your personal life. Communicate your availability to colleagues and clients, and establish designated periods for focused work and relaxation. Resist the temptation to check emails or take work calls outside of designated hours. Establishing boundaries reinforces the importance of personal time and promotes a healthier work-life balance.

Looking for more guidance on how to set—and maintain—boundaries at work? Check out this article from Thomson Reuters’ Practical Law In-House Blog.

3. Delegate and Collaborate

Recognize when you're stretched too thin and don't hesitate to delegate tasks or seek assistance from colleagues. Collaboration not only lightens your workload but also fosters a sense of teamwork and friendship within the workplace. Delegating tasks allows you to focus on high-priority assignments while empowering others to contribute their skills and expertise.

As part of the DRI Foundation, DRI for Life is where our members help each other achieve balance and thrive in their professional and personal lives. Visit the DRI for Life website for programming and resources designed to help you manage your stress in healthy and productive ways and achieve a more fulfilling work-life balance.

4. Practice Time Management

Efficient time management is essential for juggling multiple responsibilities effectively. Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable segments, and allocate specific time slots for each task. Use time-blocking techniques to dedicate uninterrupted periods to critical work while also scheduling breaks to recharge. Avoid multitasking, as it can diminish productivity and increase stress levels.

Here’s a tip from a DRI member on practicing time management:

Get on top of time management and set aside time to network even early in your career.”

– Daniel Strong, a partner at Teague Campbell Dennis & Gorham in Raleigh, North Carolina

5. Embrace Flexibility

Embrace flexibility in your work schedule whenever possible. Negotiate flexible working arrangements with your employer, such as telecommuting or flexible hours, to accommodate personal commitments and optimize productivity. Embracing flexibility allows you to better integrate work and personal life, leading to greater satisfaction and well-being.

Here’s a tip from a DRI member on embracing flexibility:

“[Learn] to be agile. Learn to embrace change even when it is change you did not plan for.”

– Autumn Connot, a business development executive at Guardian Group

6. Practice Self-Care

Prioritize self-care to maintain physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Incorporate regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits into your routine to sustain energy levels and reduce stress. Make time for activities you enjoy outside of work hours, whether it's spending time with loved ones, pursuing hobbies, or engaging in relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga.

Not sure how to promote wellness in your day-to-day life? Here are 10 Wellness Tips for Lawyers in a post from Court & Counsel: The DRI Blog.

Here’s a tip from a DRI member on practicing self-care:

“Plan on getting sick during your career. It's going to happen.”

– Patrick T. Holscher, a partner at Schwartz, Bon, Walker & Studer in Casper, Wyoming

7. Learn to Say No

Learn to say no to additional commitments or tasks that exceed your capacity or interfere with your priorities. While it's essential to be proactive and collaborative, it's equally important to recognize your limitations and protect your time and energy. Politely decline requests that aren't aligned with your objectives or would compromise your work-life balance.

8. Disconnect Regularly

Set aside regular periods to disconnect from work-related technology and distractions. Designate tech-free zones or times during the day to focus on personal activities or relationships without interruptions. Disconnecting allows you to recharge mentally and emotionally, fostering greater presence and engagement in both professional and personal domains.

If you’re in need of some reading recommendations, our members have you covered. Here are a few top reading recommendations from DRI members.

9. Seek Support

Don't hesitate to seek support from mentors, peers, or professional networks when facing challenges or seeking guidance. Sharing experiences and insights with others in similar roles can provide valuable perspective and encouragement. Additionally, consider seeking support from a therapist or counselor to address stress, anxiety, or other mental health concerns proactively.

The DRI Foundation’s Substance Abuse and Mental Health Resource Center features many resources that can help you and your peers find support for mental illness, substance abuse, and addiction. There are countless organizations and individuals who have the knowledge, experience, and willingness to help you.

Here are some tips from DRI members on seeking support:

“REACH OUT to those who know what they are doing and ask for help/guidance/advice. Do not be shy. Most attorneys are more than happy to teach you a few tricks, share some advice, or act as a sounding board.”

– Johanna Louise Gauvreau, a partner at McCoy Leavitt Laskey in Falmouth, Maine

“You don't make the facts. Don't take them personally.”

– John P. Cahill, a partner at Lanza Law Firm in Bellaire, Texas

“Work hard and listen to your mentors.”

– Robert L. Guerra, Sr., a member and director at Thornton, Biechlin, Reynolds and Guerra in McAllen, Texas

10. Reflect and Adjust

Regularly reflect on your work-life balance and make adjustments as needed. Assess what's working well and what areas could use improvement, then implement changes accordingly. Be flexible and adaptive in refining your approach to achieving balance, recognizing that it's an ongoing process rather than a fixed destination.

Here’s a tip from a DRI member on taking time to reflect and adjust:

“Feeling overwhelmed and not having confidence is normal. You are entering a profession with its own language, rules, and conduct. Those feelings do not mean you are a ‘bad’ lawyer.”

– Stacy L. Moon, a managing partner at Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani in Birmingham, Alabama

Managing work-life balance while working in civil defense requires intentionality, discipline, and self-awareness. By prioritizing responsibilities, establishing boundaries, practicing self-care, and seeking support when needed, you can navigate the demands of your profession while nurturing a fulfilling personal life. Remember that achieving balance is not a one-size-fits-all endeavor—find what works best for you and prioritize your well-being along the way.

Looking for additional resources to support your well-being? Visit the DRI for Life website for programming and resources designed to help you manage your stress in healthy and productive ways.

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