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Balancing ‘Gung Hay Fat Choy’

The Year of the Goat (or Sheep) began Feb. 19, which also happened to be my first day in the office that week. Between President’s Day, a snow day and a sick kid, my work week began on a Thursday and I was trying to put out all of the fires that blazed in my absence. While I had been working from home, which is helpful for drafting briefs, researching, and document review, being in the office is vital when you collaborate with others, assign work, and strategize about pending cases.

But it was the Chinese New Year, I am Chinese (and Thai), and I wanted to spend time to celebrate the New Year. Growing up, my family did not indulge in many cultural traditions; Chinese New Year was one of the few exceptions. It represented a fresh start with our loved ones. We would welcome the New Year with a clean house (figuratively sweeping away bad luck). We would pay homage to our elders. We would have a nice dinner that included a whole fish (to represent that we would have plenty to eat for the year) and long noodles (which meant we would live long lives). And to top it all off, the kids (me) would get little red envelopes filled with crisp money inside.

But the life of a lawyer (or two in my family’s case) does not always allow for the picturesque Chinese New Year celebration I had conjured in my mind. My wife needed to work late to meet a deadline. The house was a mess. My parents were out of town. Work required my attention. So my wife and I made do, scrambling to walk the dog, pick up the kids, bill a full day’s work and submit a federal grant application.

And, even though it was 10 minutes before my kids’ bedtime, we were out the door and on our way to the closest Chinese restaurant for a celebratory dinner. Unfortunately, the closest Chinese restaurant had gone out of business, so we went to the next closest, which we soon discovered had also gone out of business. Our attempt at a Chinese New Year had turned into a comedy of errors.

But the attempt of maintaining a work/life balance as an attorney is also often a comedy of errors. The profession of law does not care if it’s Chinese New Year, if my son is sick or if my wife has a deadline to meet as well. Work/life balance requires a commitment to the actual balance. It is an affirmative choice to have a work/life balance. Do you choose private practice or public service? Large firm or small? Nonprofit or for-profit sector? These decisions play an important role in whether one is ultimately satisfied in their career.

After several years at a large law firm, my wife left private practice for a job with the Maryland Attorney General’s Office. A large reason for her/our/this decision focused on making the theory of a work/life balance a reality. And, after six years, she recently left that precarious balance to become the executive director of the Women’s Law Center of Maryland, a statewide nonprofit legal services organization. Her hours are longer and her responsibilities are greater, but she loves her job and believes in her work. Her decision is harder for the Siri family but better for her which in turn translates to ultimately better for the Siri family.

As for me, my decision last Thursday was to drag my family out to a Chinese restaurant, give my kids little red envelopes filled with crisp $20 bills, clean the house after we put them to bed (an hour and a half after their bedtime) and work into the wee hours of the morning putting out any remaining fires.

I know it’s a little late, but Gung Hay Fat Choy (Happy Chinese New Year)! May you have a fresh start to the new year.