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FItzpatrick, Esq. Sept. 10, 2016

“There is a difference between living and being alive.”

I follow the State Bar of Texas (SBOT) on twitter. One day, after lunch, on my way back to the office I saw a tweet asking lawyers to tweet their vacation pictures with the hashtag #lawyervacay. I had recently returned from a trip to Hawaii and had the perfect photo in mind. I tweeted the photo and instantly the SBOT like and then retweeted it. Then a few more likes and few more retweets. Within and hour over 500 people had seen that photo. A few weeks passed and I forgot about the photo – I had literally been swamped with work. Then I received a tweet from the SBOT, and my photo was chosen as one of the five staff favorites. That tweet included the hashtag #worklifebalance. It wasn’t until then that I realized the importance of this exercise: work-life balance.

Attorneys are notorious for having a horrible work-life balance – something I did not know before law school. We’ve all heard about the junior associate struggling to bill 2500 hours a month – just to get promoted to partner. As partner the attorney will manage the junior associates, take on some of the big cases, and have to schmooze the big-time clients. At this point the attorney is making a decent wage, driving a nice car, and living in a big home. But, what do all these financial gains cost the attorney? Essentially,their life. Not that they are going to die, but they are literally trading their life for money. We all expect to work – and work hard. But there needs to be a time when the workday ends, and we have time to enjoy our personal and/or family life.

This is not just a problem with large firms. I know many small firm attorneys that have the same problems. At the smaller firms the attorneys have more administrative responsibilities creating more work. The work-life balance is hard to get.But we need to be aware.What are the dangers of work-life imbalance? Burnout, depression, and substance abuse to name a few. It seems that Texas realizes this more than many states. I remember being required to take an ethics course that included substance abuse awareness after passing the bar. Our bar cards have an 800 number for us to call if we are having issues with substance abuse and mental health. I have several friends licensed in other states. These attorneys did not have any substance abuse training and their bar cards do not have any hotlines for help. Yet this is a problem in all states and for many in our profession.

This is not a blogpost to scientifically discuss studies about work-life balance or to tell employers how to improve work-life balance. This post is about the importance for self awareness of work-life balance. I think it is amazing that the SBOT pushes for awareness of  work-life balance and the need for attorneys to take a healthy break from their professional lives.

Personally, I’ve felt work-life imbalance. There have been many stressful days that have made me want to quit. There have been days where I’ve said “I wish I chose a different profession.” But, eventually a vacation comes along, I leave town, and try to forget about work and just enjoy myself. I always look forward to that vacation. I always tell myself to take more vacations. It never happens – it is great to have goals.

I recently saw a quote, I don’t know who said it, but it stuck with me: “There is a difference between living and being alive.” This quote really stuck with me. Getting up, going to work, and doing mind-numbing work all day to just go home – go to sleep then wake up and do it all over again is just being alive. But the time we spend with our families and enjoying our personal time — this is when we are experiencing life and we’re living. We all need more time living.

It’s great there is awareness of the problems with work-life imbalance. It’s wonderful that the SBOT is pushing for more work-life balance. I’m proud to be a member of the SBOT and I’m very happy with their desire to make being a lawyer the best profession.