How to Manage


I want to make something very clear: there is no point in having a conversation about managing your time or energy if you hate your job.

There are so many CPDs, and an entire industry, geared toward helping lawyers be more organized or more efficient or whatever it is that they need to improve to bill as many hours as possible.

This is all wasted on you if you are actively hating your job right now.

Let’s be honest – the reason that you’re not getting that much done is because you don’t want to do it. You don’t want to call that client about that thing that you don’t care about. You don’t want to draft that document or make that offer or whatever because you just don’t want to be there.

I have spoken to too many young lawyers who are convinced that something is wrong with them because they aren’t hitting their billable targets, and so many of them are failing to ask a basic question: do you like what you do?

Notice that I didn’t ask whether you love what you do because that’s stupid and it’s impossible to know in the first five years of a legal career. But, you can like it. You can wake up in the morning and look forward to seeing your coworkers and learning something new and taking on a challenging new file. You can do that and if you like it, then you can decide whether you need to better manage your time or energy.

If you look around you and you say – this sucks. I hate these people. I used to be so motivated and I’m just not feeling it anymore. You should seriously consider whether this is the right place for you. Maybe even if it’s the right career. Because you’re not going to become motivated to work 2000 hours on something you don’t want to do.

I think the ‘mysterious’ loss of motivation is one of the key issues that lawyers who are unhappy face, but they consider it to be a personal failure rather than a sign of a larger problem. And I get it. It’s really hard to be someone who worked extremely hard in undergrad and law school (and loved it) and then all of a sudden feel like the brakes have been slammed on, but there’s no obvious reason for it.

Wasn’t this the job that you always wanted? Isn’t this the type of law you always wanted to practice? When the answer is yes, the lawyer quickly determines that they have the issue and if they just work harder/smarter/faster, they’ll work through it. However, that logic is flawed.

Trying to work without motivation is like trying to run through quicksand. The more you force yourself to do the work, the slower you’ll go, the faster you’ll sink and you will never reach the other side. Then the inevitable panic and downward spiral begin. You think – if I can’t motivate myself to do this work, then I must be a bad lawyer/bad person/terrible at everything. But, you’re not the problem.

The problem is a system that’s set up to put warm bodies in seats and doesn’t pay attention to the individual strengths and weaknesses of the person. It used to be the case that lawyers were apprentices. They got to work under experienced counsel and develop an appreciation for the practice of law as much as the concepts underlying our legal system.

That’s not really the case anymore. Now, new lawyers are a cog in the wheel. It may five to seven years before you ever get to actually “practice” law. You’ll spend those first few years doing a lot of the mundane document-based tasks that will eventually be done by computers. You’re not actually using your brain so you check out. You lose motivation. You wonder why you went to law school.

You hate everything.

And I don’t want that for you. So, don’t be afraid to ask yourself the question: Do I like what I’m doing? If the answers yes, then we can have a further discussion about how to make all of the pieces of the life puzzle fit together.

However, if the answer is no, we need to go back to fundamentals. You can flourish as a lawyer, you just need to find the right position. Start by checking out my post on searching for legal jobs because there are so many questions to ask. Next, do a little soul searching – you have to know yourself to know what you want. Last, put yourself out there. Meet as many people as you possibly can. It is time consuming and difficult and there are always some really awkward people out there, but you’ll get better at it and it will improve your odds of finding something you like immeasurably.

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Take Your Time

I can’t believe that January is nearly over! I was on vacation for the first two weeks of the month and, as much as it felt weird to be away from the hustle and bustle for the first couple of days, I eased into the easy-going way of life pretty quickly. Which brings me to the topic of today’s post.

Take your time.

And by that I mean your vacation time.

Take as much of it as you possibly can (in fact, all) and if for some reason you can’t help but have some roll over to the next day – make sure you take it all the next year. I wish I had some wonderful platitudes about life passing by so quickly and slowing down, blah blah blah (those are all true), but you need to take your vacation time because you will be a better lawyer if you stop and rest every once in awhile.

The people who burn out are the people who go go go, non stop, pedal to the floor and then look up five years later and have no idea how they got to where they are and become overwhelmed with the thought of continuing in the same vein for the next 30 to 40 years. I mean, wouldn’t we all get pretty bummed out if that was the only option?

Personally, it had been far too long since I had been on a real vacation. My family lives in the U.S. and we visit them a couple times a year, which is always nice, but let’s be real – it’s not a vacation. It’s trying to cram nine months of memories into 5 or 6 days. I had honestly forgotten what it was like to just be….away.

It was wonderful.

When I got back and started work (remind me to tell you about my new job!), I was so relaxed and refreshed and ready to make an impact. To help people. To learn. To take on my new role with vim and vigor. I’m not lying when I say that work actually feels different. Undoubtedly, some of it is the new job smell that has yet to wear off, but I had a really stressful fall filled with job searching and uncertainty. I think that if I had gone straight from that period into a new job, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to essentially hit the reset button on stress and anxiety.

Starting a new job brings its own stresses and if I had not taken a break, my mind would have already been close to full. But, after the break, I wasn’t already maxed out on stress. I am able to deal with the relatively minor stresses of being the new kid on the block and keep perspective on what’s really important.

I know it can be very difficult sometimes to let go of the stress and anxiety because when you’ve been hyper-vigilant for so long, it can be very difficult to let go. Even when it feels bad, it’s the familiar thing so you hold on as tight as you can. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Take your vacation time. Be kind to yourself. You’ll be a better lawyer for it.

My Holiday Wish List

Where has all the time gone? Like, seriously. I am not even remotely prepared for the next couple of weeks. Hopefully, the rest of you have managed to complete any holiday shopping (or made it through your respective holidays relatively unscathed). I will be one of those sad people in the mall this weekend praying for a small miracle. Also – Amazon Prime saves lives. It’s for real.

Now that I’ve gotten my holiday shopping anxiety out of the way – let’s get down to the real business of the season: career planning. It’s easy to get caught up in the rush of the holiday season and develop tunnel vision at it relates to the end of the year. “I just need to close this one deal”, you may think to yourself, or “If I can collect the past due accounts from these three clients then everything will balance for the year.”

Any path will do if you don’t know where you’re going

Those are legitimate and important concerns, but if you don’t take some time to focus on your career path and direction then chances are you’ll find yourself in basically the same place this time next year…and the year after…and the year after. Until, eventually, you burn out and you just give it all up anyway because really what’s being a lawyer ever gotten you, right?!

Well, I’ll tell you what it could get you if you go about it the right way:

  1. Amazing clients
  2. Smart colleagues
  3. A satisfying career where you are challenged and feel that you’re able to make a valuable contribution
  4. An appreciation for just how fortunate you are to be able to help people with their problems

That may sound a bit pie-in-the-sky, but, as I’ve said before, you have to start with some goals in mind to develop a career plan. Maybe you don’t want any of those things that I’ve listed above, but you must want something. Start there.

Next, figure out what steps you need to take to get there. Do you need to develop new relationships with people? Do you need to develop a particular expertise? Do you need to learn etiquette or how to play golf? It doesn’t matter what it is, but figure out the steps required to get to that end goal.

Now, think about what specific thing you can do in 2016 to execute on that goal. For some of the far-reaching, pie-in-the-sky stuff, perhaps you break it into small steps and set a specific timeframe for achieving each step. Or maybe there’s one thing that you can do to set yourself up for success like attending a conference that you’ve always wanted to go to. Signing up for the conference is great, but, of course, you don’t just attend and hang out by the drink table: figure out who else is going or speaking on a panel that would be of interest to you and start building a relationship with them beforehand so that you can really make the most of the conference.

I just want to make it clear that this is a really important process to go through and that you shouldn’t expect to have it all done overnight. You may want to just set an hour or two aside here and there to begin working on this and set a goal of having a completed career plan for the end of January. The point of the process is to provide guidance and structure to the work that you do throughout the year because it’s just too easy in this profession to feel as though everything is urgent and that you’ve lost control. And once you feel as though you’ve lost control, you really have and it’s just a matter of time before you stop caring about your clients, about your work and about yourself.

So, my wish for all the lawyers this holiday season is simple: Make the time. Take control of your career.

Happy Holidays!

Note: The holidays are often the time of year when work and family stresses pile on top of each other. If find it difficult to deal with the stress of the holidays and are turning to alcohol or other substances during this time, there is help. The law societies in Canada and most state bar associations have counseling and other confidential resources available to help you through difficult times. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

LSUC Member Assistance Program