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Does Work-life Balance Help Lawyers Serve their Clients Better?

Reading a recent essay in the Bermuda Sun got me thinking about the importance of work-life balance not just for lawyers, but for clients.  Let me explain.

In this deeply personal account of her successes and failures in living a balanced life, Joy Pimental, executive vice president of marketing with the Argus Group, tells how she has tried to balance the time she spends on career and volunteer work with the time she gives to her family and friends.  Often, however, Pimental seemed to be forgetting to care for herself, always focusing on others' needs.  She recalls, "I never put myself first; I would have felt selfish if I did."

In the early 1990s, she discovered what she calls a "profound truth": to care for others, she first had to care for herself.  At that point, she started to make a higher priority of her health and emotional well-being and let go of her concerns about selfishness when they did arise.  Today, Pimental is concerned with leaving the world a better place.  To that end, she values her personal time and time with friends and consciously seeks balance in her life.  That's because work-life balance doesn't just happen; achieving it "requires attention and work, much like a beloved garden or an important relationship," as she puts it.

While Joy Pimental is a businesswoman rather than an attorney, her story holds an important lesson for us lawyers: we really do need to take good care of ourselves.  Pursuing work-life balance is one important way we can care for ourselves well.

After reading and reflecting on Joy Pimental's experiences, I began to ask myself a few fundamental questions about work-life balance.  Since nearly everything I've read (and written) on the topic emphasizes the benefits of work-life balance for attorneys, I decided to take a more client-focused approach and consider what clients might stand to gain from working with more "balanced" lawyers.  Here are some of the questions I'm pondering.

Will living a more balanced life allow me to do better work for my clients?  If so, what are some of the potential benefits for clients?

If I don't live a reasonably balanced life, could my lack of balance harm my clients?  If so, how could clients be harmed?  What could I do to prevent such harm?

These are big questions and I don't presume to have the answers to them.  However, even though I'm just starting my inquiry about a client-centered rationale for work-life balance, I'm convinced these are questions worth considering.  Perhaps the issue is not work-life balance at the expense of first-rate client service, but work-life balance as a prerequisite to first-rate client service.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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I think taking care of ourselves enables us to focus better when we are working, it reduces our stress so that we can be calm for our clients and I think that being in similar struggles to achieve work-life balance makes us more empathetic and aware of our clients needs.

Thanks for your comment, Laurie. To me, a balance of work and personal life is the only way to go in the long run.

While we may need to put in a lot of extra effort for a special project or emergency situation, I don't think we do clients many favors by working insane hours that leave us drained. We're more likely to make mistakes under such stress and we can easily lower our own quality of life.

I enjoy the practice of law and I enjoy writing--my two main work activities. However, based on previous unpleasant experiences, I know I enjoy my work much more when I have balance in my life. When I was operating as a one-man litigation firm, I went four years without any vacation. That is not the way to do it. I have opted for a transaction and counseling practice that gives me the flexibility I need, a rewarding career in the law, and the opportunity for enough time to pursue interests outside of work.

I like the whole work-life balance as a pre-requisite to first rate client service position.

Pity many of those who manage firms haven't deemed it worthy of consideration. This is likely to drop farther on the back burner in light of the global economic crisis.

I have found lately that the work life balance issue is a result of my lack of daily focused activity while at the office... The constant bombardment of interruption that seems to be our lives these days leads to a life of skimming. Skimming leads to a lack of productivity, which leads to working longer hours and blurring the line between work and home...

A few years back the WSJ ran an article that asked if you handled your client matters the way you handled your health, would your client's stand for it? It argued that it is our duty to our clients or employers to take care of ourselves, so a trip to the gym, timely vacation, or regular meals are not a selfish indulgence, but part of the quality of the product we offer.

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