It has been a little over a year since I started this job. A job that makes me feel like a for-realsies attorney without the icky task of being a cold, walled off shark. I get to help people, real people with real problems every single day. People who are disabled, homeless, alone in the world. And I choose to do this job in the most connected ways possible. The dial on my empathy is turned all way up all throughout the week. By the time I get to Friday, my soul is weary, my body is weak, and my heart is wistful.
Law school doesn’t teach you how to deal with clients, how to deal with compassion fatigue (if it even acknowledges that there is such a thing as compassion in the practice of law) or how to balance empathy with the cold, hard logic of The Law. One of my goals in life is to create a model for attorneys, who much like myself, went into law to help people, change the world and approach the practice of law with empathy and compassion. I’m learning as I go–and I’d love to share one of things that has helped me along the way.
As my family will affirm, I spend many a long night at the office. The work I do is so detailed and there is a tremendous burden on my shoulders each day. It only took a few months of this work for me to realize that I needed to build myself an escape hatch–not just because I needed it but also because no one else would do it for me.
So here are some things that have worked for me:
- Having a flexible schedule. 9-5/ M-F doesn’t work for everyone and it certainly never has for me. I purposely look for opportunities where I can be trusted as a professional to get the job done in the time that is most appropriate for me and my family. So I work 9-6 M-Th and 8-12 on Fridays. I can also change around my schedule as I need to based on appointments, family needs and such.
- I seize opportunities for self-care. I still need to get better at setting aside time and space for it, but when an opportunity for downtime presents itself I jump on it. Whether it’s lunch with a friend or time for meditation, I allow myself to seize that chance before it withers away.
- I find courage to say NO when I need to. I remember one of my first law jobs was as a clerk was for a large law firm. One of the associates in litigation gave birth and she was back to work in 2 weeks. She became my touchstone for what I might become if I couldn’t find a way to say no to impossible demands. I never, ever wanted to be her.
- I meditate. I’m only now returning to this practice, but it’s important for me to be able to let go at some point during the week and this is the easiest, most effective way.
- I designate some time that is just for me. I take Friday afternoons off for a reason. It is the one time during the week that is mine and only mine. Wanna see a movie? Friday afternoon. Wanna sit on the porch with a smoke and a whisky? Friday afternoon. Wanna spend quality time with my kid or a friend? Friday afternoon it is. My family and colleagues have learned that Friday afternoons are untouchable. Friday’s are MY days.
- I create rituals to get me through the week. One of them is to take an hour lunch, go to a diner and read. It’s something I started at my last corporate job and something that I know energizes me and allows me to turn off my critical, stressed out brain for a bit. I always have at least one fiction and one non-fiction book to choose from depending on my mood that day.
- I wash my hands after a difficult case or client encounter. It seems so simple. But it’s another ritual I engage in to wash away the bad energy that just came through my door. It gives me permission to let go of that fight or that obstacle and to start fresh again.
- I go to therapy. There’s no replacing the value of talking things out in a confidential environment with someone looking out for your best interests. I only go once a month right now, but it gives me a safe space to put all of my frustrations and doubts and gain some perspective.
These are just some of the ways I choose to handle being a heart-centric attorney in a world that denies the impact of trauma and human hardship on the people who work the front lines–and a world that fails to recognize that attorneys, despite our logic and reason, are still, you know, mostly human.