One of the hardest things for a solo construction attorney like me (or any other lawyer) is how to “let go” and leave the office at the office (or the [wherever you may work]). As conscientious professionals we spend our days obsessing about other peoples problems, advising clients as to the best way to deal with their particular circumstances, fighting it out with other lawyers and running a law practice. It’s no wonder that we develop a semi-obsessive mindset that, while part of what is necessary to be a successful solo practitioner (along with a reasonable web presence, good marketing strategy and, as should be obvious, a great legal acumen) does not help if carried back to the spouse and kids.
The issues with “bringing work home” are made larger by the fact that our ethical rules preclude us from discussing many of the particulars of our work with anyone outside of our firm. Often it is just these issues that are subject to non-disclosure that are the gnawing ones that keep us up at night. On more than one occasion I have acted surly at home and felt the frustration of not being able to discuss the client related burr in my saddle (yes, I do talk like that occasionally), with my favorite person in the world: my wife. I am either left with empty responses like “oh, it’s nothing” or have to deal in generalities such as “I wish I could talk about it, but it’s confidential.”
Along with this obsessive thought process, almost all of us, if not all of us, use some form of mobile computing (whether tablet, laptop or smartphone) to make the practice of law more flexible and efficient. Again, this is a good thing, so long as it doesn’t interfere with our down time. The other edge to this sword is the fact that these platforms keep us in constant communication and give us the constant ability to remain “plugged in” to our law practices, often to the detriment of our families or the ability to relax on vacation.
Like everything else I post here at ALPS411, I can only speak from my personal experience. I have found that the following “tricks,” while not perfect, help me to avoid the pitfalls that are inherent in a 24/7 communication society for me as a lawyer:
- Make e-mail alerts on your smartphone silent. If you are anything like me, any time your phone buzzes or dings you feel the urge to check it. Because of this, I set my Android phone e-mail alerts to silent. This way when the phone is in my pocket, I, not the phone, decide when to check e-mails.
- Only have your phone sync for e-mail every half hour at a minimum (longer if you can stand it). This keeps the e-mail interruptions at a minimum when away from the office. You can always manually sync if you have a trial upcoming and know the e-mails are coming fast and furious.
- Talk about what you can. While much of our client interactions are confidential, the general issues of practice management, money, stress level, etc. are not. Talk with your significant other about these issues. I find that when discussed you could find that these are a bigger source of stress than the clients. Talking about them will help.
- Take a laptop or tablet with a keyboard on your vacation. I’m sure this sounds like something that is counter to everything else I’ve been saying Note though that I didn’t say necessarily to use that tablet or laptop while on vacation. I have found that in 5 years of being the whole staff of my law firm that if I take a tablet/laptop and my Android with me and then choose not to use them for work I relax so much better than if I don’t have these tools with me. If I don’t have the ability to connect with my cloud based practice management system or my client documents in an emergency (and I decide what those are), I freak out and obsess about what I’m missing. If I have the ability to access these things but chose not to use that ability, I don’t obsess half as much.
- Train yourself and your clients that (absent a trial starting tomorrow or some other exigent circumstance) you don’t reply to e-mail after a certain time. I found that clients will not expect immediate responses unless you give such an immediate response. Clients won’t expect a response at 9 PM unless you are in the habit of sending them.
- Meal time is family time. Our household rule is that we don’t check the phones during meal times. This sure helps for me and the kids particularly and keeps the family time as family time.
Of course, if you do better heading home at 4 in the afternoon spending family time and then responding to e-mails at 10 PM, and can keep to that schedule, then more power to you. Each and every one of these tips is from my perspective and are there as suggestions. The key is to use some variation on something like these to keep a “firewall” between your family life and your work life as best as possible.
What other ideas work for you? I’d love to hear them.
Christopher Hill is a construction lawyer at The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC in Richmond, Virginia and a member of the Virginia’s Legal Elite in Construction Law. You can follow his blog at: http://constructionlawva.com/welcome-to-construction-law-musings/.