January 7, 2010

Making friends with the jealous mistress

Back in 1829, Supreme Court Associate Justice Joseph Story accurately stated, "I will not say with Lord Hale, that 'The Law will admit of no rival' ...but I will say that it is a jealous mistress, and requires a long and constant courtship.  It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage."

In the nearly 200 years since, the practice of law hasn't become any less insistent in its demands for lavish, long, and constant courtship. Any practicing lawyer knows there's always more to be done. We don't go home at the end of the day because we're finished, but because we've decided it's time to go home.

How do you make (and enforce) that decision to quit for the day? What disciplines, rationales, or tricks of the mind work for you in keeping the jealous mistress at bay?

For me, two concepts are essential: Boundaries and sacrifice.

Boundaries means, first, that I'm alert to the threat of law consuming all my waking hours (and stealing my sleeping hours). And second, boundaries means establishing certain deliberate defenses. Leaving the office by a set time, not working on weekends and especially Sundays, avoiding bringing work home. While none of these boundaries are easy to keep, their very existence makes them possible to keep. It's amazing what you can get done within your boundaries when they are firmly set.

Sacrifice means that I choose certain things above the law, no matter the consequences. God and serving him in tangible ways, family, recreation. The list is different for each lawyer, but there are things more important than law practice. And sacrifice means, yes, losing something. For me the cost is often income and professional recognition (although when it comes to recognition, I've seemingly gained more of it the more I've been willing to sacrifice it).

What are the keys to your healthy balance of life and law practice? What boundaries do you set? What sacrifices do you make?

How do you make friends with the jealous mistress?

Note: I touch on some related thoughts in an essay, "Making Friends with the Jealous Mistress: Successfully Balancing Law Practice and Life," which I wrote for The Pennsylvania Lawyer magazine's July/August 2008 issue. If you'd like a free copy of that essay, just leave a comment and your contact info, and I'll be happy to email the pdf file.

8 comments:

  1. Great notion of the jealous mistress who lives at bay in all professions. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Yes, she doesn't confine herself to lawyers!

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  7. Hello, and good afternoon. I'm into the legal profession in Nigeria. I'd like a copy of your article in The Pennsylvania Lawyer on how a balance can be struck between family life and successful law practice. Thanks

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