In an earlier blog post, I discussed some practice development tips for newer lawyers. This post continues that conversation.
Not Work Life Balance – Integration
When we talk about work-life balance we are talking of course about the relationship between our work and other important features of our lives, the most important generally being family. The uber references to the concept of a work life balance achieving an equilibrium between work and family come with the assumption that it is in fact achievable. I think not.
Scuba divers refer to neutral buoyancy, a balance at whatever depth that allows the diver to exert less energy to remain neutral (weightless) underwater. This requires the use of a buoyancy compensator. We would like to achieve that kind of equilibrium or balance between our work and play but we will not. In the practice of law, there is no neutrality and there is no constancy. Notwithstanding best efforts, everything is and will remain in flux.
The notion of work life integration is a more useful concept and easier to seize onto. A simple definition of integration is “to form, coordinate, or blend into a functioning or unified whole”. In pursuing a legal practice with the life you are living, your objective is not affecting balance but achieving a unity of purpose. You will of necessity strive to find a satisfying, effective and expedient way to both work and play. But the parts will not be equal, they will be variable. To achieve this, it will of course be necessary to first achieve balance in your work and in your play independently, which is where the notion of “balance” does have meaning. I will be commenting on achieving a “balanced practice” in a further post.
The Internal Market
The internal market is the structure that exists around you. It is made up of the people and practices you are associated with, of the governance model, of the elements that affect distribution of work, and where power and policy reside. Regardless of the structure that shapes your practice, it will have a dynamic that you cannot ignore. This applies no matter the size of the firm you are with: the larger the firm you work with, the less autonomy and individuality you have, the more important this becomes. You will need to pay attention to and situate herself in your internal market. Your objective is to earn and keep your rightful place in your firm as you see it. The SWOT analysis, referred to above, is equally as useful in helping you assess who you are and who you will need to be in the internal market as it is in helping you find your place in the external market.
The External Market
In sales, there is a distinction between first attracting the client and subsequently winning the client. Both are fundamental to selling, but the real work happens at point of sale, the point at which the transaction occurs. This is equally applicable to the practice of law. How you market yourself to attract clients is of course not only necessary but fundamental. But having attracted the client, acknowledging how increasingly competitive our practices are, it remains to be retained. Ignoring this distinction may result in your putting all your energy into getting you into the boat, to the exclusion of how you catch the fish. You will need to invest yourself in both. Missing this important distinction hurts.
In the conversation we are having, I would stress that you should of course have a social network, and I would also stress that you should enjoy it for what it is. But, enjoying your social connections need not be at the risk of ignoring the underlying “cross-selling” that comes easily with them. Networking exchanges information and opportunity, encourages collaboration and cooperation, and discovers and amplifies hitherto unknown opportunities to work professionally together. It offers a conduit to future professional relations and development.
This discussion marries up nicely with your charitable or pro bono activities. Finding a way to give back that is important to you is fundamentally the way to go, and greatly encouraged. At the same time, there is nothing wrong when you join a board of trustees in taking note of your natural affinities with other members. Nor is there anything wrong with doing good work and being seen doing it. Charitable or pro bono activities have social networks too.
Be collaborative, collegial and courteous.
Finally, I would urge you to concentrate on your people skills. Listen to learn and learn to listen. Return calls/emails no later than the day following. Treat all inquiries as worthy. Respect your staff, and mentor your colleagues. Apply the same to other professionals and to the institutions that make up the judicial system. And every quarter, read through the Rules of Professional Conduct for a reminder of the privileges you enjoy and the conditions that apply.