Congratulations. You got the articling position and spent a year working late nights and weekends, going to every firm social event and being an all-round MVP. This got you upgraded to an associate. But now, you have to keep it all up for the next forty years.
If that thought fills you with despair, you’re not alone. Every associate is bad at drawing the line between work and personal life. When I started working as a lawyer six years ago, I was in the office at crazy hours. Over the years, I’ve learned to better juggle the two. Here are my tips on achieving work-life balance once you start as an associate.
1. Make personal commitments
The best way to ensure you leave the office is to make commitments outside of work that you can’t easily break. That could mean joining a sports team, taking a class or getting married. OK, getting married may be a bit drastic, but the point stands. When you know you have to leave at a certain time, you’ll learn to prioritize and work more efficiently throughout the day.
2. Work flexibly
Safeguarding your personal time when you work in law will always be a balancing act. Many times, partners will need work done that night (or so they say). So, the more flexible you are with where you work, the easier it will be to finish everything without sacrificing your home life. For example, set up a good home office. This becomes especially crucial once you have kids, who apparently don’t respect client deadlines. (Who knew?)
3. Learn to say no
This one is probably the hardest. No good lawyer wants to disappoint colleagues or be a lousy teammate. And let’s be honest, if you’re turning down work to leave at 5:30 every day, you’re going to find yourself with too much time on your hands. But there will be times when you’re going to have to (diplomatically) tell people you can’t take on that assignment, like times when you’re working toward multiple deadlines.
This isn’t just about taking on too much work. It’s about making sure you have enough time to produce quality work. It’s a difficult thing to get right, but it’s in both you and your firm’s best interests to be upfront about what you can and can’t commit to at any given time.
4. Be busy well
As a junior associate, you’re going to have some late nights. I can guarantee that, right now, there’s a pile of documents sitting in a partner’s office with your name on it. When you’re working till 2 a.m. on a big file, it’s even more important to take some time for yourself. Get as much sleep and exercise as you can. Eat healthily and limit your coffee intake. There’s a real temptation to let these things slide when your job gets hectic. But if you get frazzled or ill, your work will suffer (and you’ll end up even busier). For me, I keep up with biking even when work becomes overwhelming so I get at least some exercise every day. You’ll have to determine what works for you.