Work-Life Balance – Myth or Medicine?
Our first year of operation as a law firm has been nothing short of amazing. It has also given us cause to reflect over the past 12 months the things that we have done, the things that we haven’t done and the things that we should do in the future. Starting a new law practice has not been easy and at times been incredibly challenging. That said, there is nothing else that we would rather be doing. Interaction with our highly valued clients, colleagues and suppliers, along with the legal matters that we are confronted with on a daily basis has made the experience rewarding and fulfilling on many levels.
One of the things that we have reflected on in the past 12 months relates to quality of life issues. Initially, we thought that the oft cited maxim “work life balance” was a catchcry for the fainthearted, lazy and nothing short of a myth. Work life balance? Huh! What a joke…more like “work work balance”!
Let’s be honest – there are a lot of unhappy lawyers out there. Estimates suggest that one in three lawyers in Australia, from law school to final retirement, suffers at some stage from depression and low self-esteem . Another reputable study reports up to 50 per cent of solicitors, students and barristers experience depression at some stage during their career. A number, most unfortunately, will face serious suicidal imaginings . For many of us, long hours in the office, the pressure of meeting tasks and deadlines across dozens and even hundreds of files, neglecting family, the constant strive of perfectionism, meeting budgets and attracting and keeping clients can all too often lead to two destinations – burnout and depression. It is a problem too great to ignore.
The solution? In the first instance it must be acknowledged that in the legal profession (and undoubtedly other professions/occupations) there will never be enough time for career, family, friends, house, hobbies, interests, community and self. The best thing that can be done for anyone to help keep a career and life in balance are to ensure that “the four cups” are kept level and as full as possible, these being:
Physical: You only have one body, so therefore look after it. You can’t help anyone, let along yourself, if you are unwell or dead. As many people know, one of the best ways to relieve stress, be more productive and life longer is with exercise. You don’t have to be a marathon runner, but taking 15 or 30 minutes to go for a walk brings enormous benefit. Getting regular exercise is not only good for your stress levels, but is also good for you physically and your productivity.
Mental: Not giving our minds a rest can be the first casualty of our packed lives. Most of us are aware that taking breaks from physical activity is necessary to recuperate and prevent injuries. The same goes for mental activity. Research makes clear that we tend to get more done if we regularly take short breaks to relax and refresh .
Social: Having a solid social network has been shown to have an impact both physically and mentally, and it is often lauded as the key to a long and healthy life. Several studies in the United States report fewer colds, lower blood pressure and lower heart rates in participants with strong social ties. Statistics show that being in a relationship with a loved one, perhaps the strongest tie, adds years to life expectancy. Suicide, mental illness and alcoholism rates are much lower when people feel a sense of belonging .
Spiritual: Although religion and spirituality may not directly cure illness, they can have a positive effect on your health. Several medical studies show a connection between religious beliefs or practices and a decreased risk of self-destructive behaviours such as smoking, substance abuse and suicide. Other studies suggest that people who have regular religious practices tend to live longer and may be better able to enjoy life despite health issues like chronic pain .
So what all this means is that people who work long hours and lead busy lives professionally need to have more in their lives than work. No matter how good you are at your job, no matter how busy you are, you must have more than work. Work can bring you happiness, but not on the same level as family and friends. You need hobbies, family, friends, activities, community causes and things you care about besides work. We have seen lawyers that have nothing in their lives aside from work and it is not something they naturally aspire to. You must have balance. Work hard, spend a lot of time working, enjoy your work – but have balance.
*If you feel you need help, contact Lifeline 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue 1300 22 46 36. Available 24 hours, 7 days a week.
 Kirby, Michael — “Speech: Lawyers’ Suicide – The Influence of Legal Studies and Practice, Stress, Clinical Depression and Sexuality”  UNSWLawJl 52; (2015) 38(4) University of New South Wales Law Journal 1438.
 ABC Radio National, “Courting Mental Illness: The Legal Profession and Mental Health”, 8 October 2015 http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/lawreport/courting-mental-illness-the-legal-system-and-mental-health/6837090
 Bartolotta, Kate “5 Science-Backed Ways Taking a Break Boosts Our Productivity” Huffington Post, 16 November 2015 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kate-bartolotta/5-science-backed-ways-taking-a-break-boosts-our-productivity_b_8548292.html
 Value Options, Benefits of Social Interactions, April 2006 http://www.valueoptions.com/april06_newsletter/benefits_of_social_interactions.htm; Wolff C, Simplemost, 2016, https://www.simplemost.com/health-benefits-of-being-social/
 HealthAfter50, The Health Benefits of Spirituality, 27 September 2016, https://www.healthafter50.com/mental-health/article/the-health-benefits-of-spirituality.
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Date: Wednesday 2 August 2017