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H. Ward Classen: Achieving a work/life balance

The continual pressure to do more with less has placed greater stress on in-house attorneys and has often pushed their work-life balance out of kilter. Too often attorneys place professional achievement ahead of a balanced life, resulting in emotional and physical burnout. Corporations, in turn, often lose some of their best and brightest or fail to receive the best work product of these lawyers.

Although the legal department must be responsive to the needs of the business, it is still possible to balance the obligations of work and family. While work/life balance was once considered solely a women’s issue, today it is equally applicable to men.

Shared responsibility

Both the corporation and its attorneys bear responsibility for ensuring a balanced lifestyle. The tone for a corporation is set by the general counsel, who should make it clear that there is no stigma attached to taking vacation and that all employees should utilize their vacation balances. Managers should review those balances quarterly to ensure the time is being used. Attorneys who have reached maximum vacation accrual should be counseled to take some time off.

Similarly, repeatedly working late nights and weekends indicates a potential workload problem. The general counsel should continually evaluate workloads to determine whether the work is being distributed equally.

The attorney also bears responsibility for achieving a balance. Every good lawyer wants to volunteer for challenging projects and desires to keep busy, but the ones who truly want to thrive and succeed will set limits to avoid pushing themselves to exhaustion.

Working to the point of burnout is harmful to the employer as a burnt-out lawyer cannot perform at his or her best. In addition to taking their allotted vacation time, lawyers should take the time to remain current with CLE, pro bono actives and outside interests.

Options abound

Today there are many options for achieving a work/life balance. Telecommuting, for example, can reduce stress by eliminating long commutes and the tension of rush-hour traffic. Working from home not only allows an attorney to work in a more comfortable environment and eliminate commute times, but it can also reduce the need for office space, benefiting the corporation through reduced overhead and real estate costs.

The availability of quality attorneys seeking part-time schedules allows corporations to reduce workloads by acquiring new legal resources without the cost of hiring a full-time attorney. Part-time attorneys also allow a corporation to smooth the peaks and valleys of seasonal and transaction-based work, providing greater balance. (Permanent, part-time attorneys should not be expected, however, to work full time for part-time pay.)

A happy attorney is a better attorney and will provide higher-quality legal services. By maintaining a positive work-life balance, attorneys will likely achieve personal satisfaction both personally and professionally. In turn, the employer will receive a better work-product and likely retain a long-term, satisfied employee.

*Mr. Classen is Deputy General Counsel of Computer Sciences Corporation. The views expressed herein are those of Mr. Classen and not those of Computer Sciences Corporation.

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