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LAWBIZ COACHES CORNER: The problem with working long past 40 hours

Ed Poll is a speaker, author and board-approved coach to the legal profession. He can be contacted at edpoll@lawbiz.com. Also visit his interactive community for lawyers at www.LawBizForum.com.

It seems the more that Americans strive for a work-life balance, the more that such a goal becomes, well, out of balance.

In the effort to excel, made more intense by the pressure of economics, trying too hard to succeed can cause problems for lawyers. Generally, we’re successful because we’re competitive. But, too often, our striving for success can be counterproductive.

An online survey conducted for Premiere Global Services Inc. revealed that a large majority of people work more than the traditional 40 hours per week. According to the survey, discussed in an Atlanta Journal-Constitution article by Christopher Seward, 88 percent of people work more than 40 hours each week. In addition, almost one-quarter take work home from the office one day a week or more, and almost one-quarter would like to work less.

When coaching lawyers who feel overwhelmed by their practices and lives, I emphasize that every day is an opportunity for each of us to create balance in our lives. That means taking time to create a legacy, help clients, manage our practices, and care for our families and ourselves. That’s a combination that defines life; a 24/7 endeavor, 365 days a year.

Many lawyers equate success with money, money and more money. This viewpoint will only lead to a lack of a work-life balance and unhappiness, however.

There is always a larger boat in the water, no matter how large yours may be. View success not as “how much” but rather as “how well” you use your time and talents to build your legacy.

For many years, I, too, thought that success meant strictly how much money one earned each year. But as a practicing lawyer handling divorces, I wondered how my clients could earn more than I did and be perceived as successful yet have a net worth less than mine. Then, as a coach and consultant to attorneys and law firms, I thought that lawyers in large firms, especially equity partners, were more successful than I was; as a sole practitioner, I earned less and didn’t have the power of a large organization to help achieve my goals.

Eventually, I got beyond those feelings by recognizing and accepting the success that I had built in my life and career, success that met my own definitions. That definition encompasses what I have done as a husband, father and grandfather, not just as a businessman, lawyer and coach.

The desire to create new value for my clients and to leave a lasting and meaningful legacy that my children and grandchildren can admire has driven me for many years.

I truly believe that most attorneys love their profession but also want to be fully committed to their families and personal lives. The trick is to get past the distractions and stress so that you can see your life for what you want it to be and create your own definition of success.

In a truly successful life, each of us strives for balance, to do something daily that we enjoy doing rather than waiting until vacation time or reaching the age of “X.” Our time is precious, and we should take time when we can to do the things we enjoy.

I am reminded of that point every time a colleague dies.

As my own coach says, real wealth is discretionary time; time to do what you want when you want. I enjoy what I do professionally and cannot envision retiring from it, but I also enjoy time spent doing things with my wife, children and grandchildren. Because I look forward to life, I am blessed, lucky and successful.

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