Frank Underwood, the fictional Majority Whip turned Vice President in the Netflix series, House of Cards, uses ruthless determination and backhanded scheming to further his pursuit of power. As the title of the program suggests, Frank, his equally ruthless wife, Claire, and their inner circle live in a precariously balanced world, which requires deft movement for fear that their very world will topple upon them. Personally, while I enjoy the show, I have a difficult time rooting for Frank and Claire, the two protagonists, as they really are not good people.
Unfortunately, while on a very different level, I can relate to them.
As I draft this blog, I lay in bed next to my youngest son, on a Thursday afternoon. Two nights ago, it started with a cough. The cough turned into a fever. The fever turned into a call from his daycare, which turned into hurried conversations with my wife about schedules for the remaining week. After some bartering, promises to clients or co-workers were made in an effort to keep our personal house of cards from falling. I woke up well before sunrise today to get work done and help get my wife and oldest son out the door. With the sounds of Magic School Bus and other television programs in the background, I completed necessary tasks for work in the morning, brought my youngest to the doctor, and got back home where he finally would nap (but only with me laying next to him). My wife will return this evening and I will head out the door for a dinner meeting, which is close to the office, and a late night at the office to finish up work.
But this is no different than most other lawyers. Our schedules are busy with professional requirements such as billable hours, business development and continuing education, as well as personal responsibilities. As attorneys, we tend to believe basic rules applicable to laypersons do not apply to us. For example, there are 24 hours in a day and sleep is a necessary part of the day. In any given week, I have one or two after work commitments that keep me from having dinner with my family (whether it is work related, bar association related, or personal); a training schedule which requires me to pound out miles on the road or on a treadmill for my next marathon; a wife and two children that I want to spend quality time with, and a law practice that needs constant attention. My wife, who seamlessly morphs from full time attorney to full time mother (and back), shares an equally busy schedule. For us, the simple task of keeping our house of cards standing (and keeping our sanity) requires planning and preparation. Fortunately, over the past few years, we have been lucky to build a framework to keep it all together — especially when the next stomach bug strikes or the next snow day cancels school or the next temporary restraining order is filed against your client at 4:59pm (with a hearing at 9:30am the next day):
- Hillary Clinton was right – it really does take a village. I never read the book, but I know from first hand experience, that I need the assistance of family and friends. And while we normally try to be self reliant, when your kid is one his fourth or fifth day of a fever, but you really need to be in the office or in Court, calling in mom or dad to help out is not out of the question. We are lucky, because both sets of our kid’s grandparents are within driving distance to help out in pinch.
- Select Your Partners Wisely – luckily, both my law partners and my partner in life are supportive and understanding. My firm understands that the balance between work and life is not always equal, but they trust me enough (and I the same) that there will be days when I will be out of the office, but still handling my responsibilities. As for my partner in life, we share a mutual respect for our endeavors and both pitch in to make things work.
- LogMeIn, iPhone, iPad, and my Litigation Briefcase – with the right preparation, I can work from any location. So on days when I think I may be out of the office, I fill my litigation bag to the brim, making sure that my Apple products are fully charged, and can help me get work done anywhere.
- Run, Drink or Eat – I need to relive the stress of being a lawyer on a daily basis. I will be able to better and more efficiently handle any situation if I have had a chance to manage any underlying tension. For me, stress relief or stress management falls within three categories: exercise (usually in the form of running); alcohol (either in the form of carbonated barley or crushed red grapes); or food (definitely in the fried variety). As early morning or mid-day drinking is not conducive to a balanced, healthy life and eating fried foods is not conducive to a healthy heart or waistline, I spend a portion of almost every day running or at the gym. It allows me to clear my mind and work through problems. It may be first thing in the morning before work or after one of my nightly meetings, but it is usually the only time of day I spend alone.
What keeps your house of cards from toppling over?