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    May 16th, 2008

    ♫Just open your eyes,
    And realize, the way its always been.
    Just open your mind
    And you will find
    The way its always been.
    Just open your heart
    And thats a start…♫

    Words and Music by Graeme Edge and Ray Thomas, recorded by The Moody Blues.

    At the American Bar Association’s Law Practice Management Section meeting in Santa Fe, New Mexico that is happening on May 14-17, 2008, there was a panel discussion by Jamie Spannhake, Mark Komer, Ed Flitton and Diane Costigan on Living a Life in the Law. This panel presentation was all about achieving a life-work balance while practising law.

    To begin with, the panelists had to draw a definition of what is living a balanced life. The definition that was put forward was “Using your time effectively so that no one area of your life is neglected”. To place this in context, Ed Flitton noted that at his firm, Holland and Hart, partners are expected to log 1700 billable hours/year and associates, 1800. On top of that are pro bono hours, education time etc to bring every lawyer’s total logged (billable and non-billable) time to 2500 hours/year.

    If lawyers worked a normal number of days/year (231 is typical taking into account statutory holidays and 14 days/vacation/year) that means that lawyers have to log 10.8 hours/day in the office. This clearly implies that lawyers are clearly spending long hours and weekends in the office to meet their billable hour requirements. The situation is further compounded when you realize that there are many law firms out there that have even higher billable hour requirements from partners and associates alike.

    So how do you start living a life in the law? One suggestion that was put forward was to build in a sabbatical of 3 months every 5 years for partners. For one, this adds to the motivation to become partner! Furthermore, clients are shared among the lawyers in the firm, as no one can simply leave their practice for 3 months. This promotes a cultural change in the firm to regard clients as firm clients and not to horded clients by partners. This cultural change is seen as being very positive and team-oriented.

    Other suggestions were to choose your law firm carefully and try to work with lawyers who share your values. Furthermore, exercise personal leadership in defining what success is and a successful life are to you and not allowing others to set these definitions (and your schedule) for you.

    Lastly look to creative ways to rework your time/career relationship with your firm. Jamie Spannhake brought forward her personal story to reduce her time requirements by 30% at her firm, in order to allow her to build a personal practice as a holistic health counselor ( She was the first lawyer at a major New York firm that brought in a reduced hourly rate requirement for someone for reasons that had nothing to do with family and child needs.

    The first step is to open your mind and your heart … and that’s a start!

    This entry was posted on Friday, May 16th, 2008 at 1:16 pm and is filed under Change Management, Firm Governance, Issues facing Law Firms, Law Firm Strategy, Leadership and Strategic Planning, personal focus and renewal, Trends. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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