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Balancing Your Law Career and Personal Life

A new lawyer must be careful to channel stresses and frustrations away from clients and seniors. (I left out family and friends, because that's usually where stresses are channeled *to* -- although you should be careful there, too.

Stress Management Strategies

Exercise and hobbies are useful options. It's easy to get caught up in the demands of practice, but you should not let the stresses of law office life accumulate without some regular method of release. You cannot devote yourself to an avocation in conflict with your job, but you should try to balance the two. On that other, ever-present hand, don't neglect the importance of (sometimes) doing nothing. Don't try to be everything to everyone (including yourself).

Perhaps the most important way for new lawyers to reduce (or at least manage) on-the-job stress is to quickly develop an expertise in a narrow area of law that interests them. Experience in an area naturally leads to additional projects in that area, so it's important to choose your initial area(s) wisely. The more comfortable you are in the substance of a legal area, the less thrown you'll feel in the case-specific exceptions that are bound to arise. More importantly, you'll gain a sense of accomplishment and self-esteem, which is a large part of finding your own satisfaction.

Yet another technique for reducing on-the-job stress: Be nice.

Quite a few new lawyers enter an office with a huge chip on their shoulders, either because that's the way they are, or because that's the way they think lawyers should be: Arrogant. Snotty. Insufferable.

Just realize that they don't have to suffer *you*.

And you'll quickly find out that many of your working partners (and bosses) are every bit as smart as you are. Being smart only gets your foot in the door. *Using* your smarts in a smart way is what will keep you there. There are too many details covered in the book to recount, here (and I'm not sure my few operational brain cells could recount that many, right now)...but nearly all follow common sense. The trouble for many new lawyers is that their sense isn't so common. Look around. Anticipate. Assist.

Do NOT be snotty. You haven't earned that right. (On second thought, I don't think *anyone* has earned that right. On third thought, I don't think it *is* a right.) Be nice.

Be nice to everyone. Seniors. Colleagues. Support staff. They can help you, if you let them. They can make your life a living hell, if you force them. Be nice.

Take a look in the mirror. An abrasive personality might be perceived (by the inexperienced or uncaring) as requisite to high-powered law, but the result is more often a detour from the fast track. Especially for a new lawyer, you're in no position to be abusive. It will, more likely than not, get you into trouble from above and below. Remember, too, that although the staff are nominally subordinate, most have been there quite some time, and a good percentage are informally high above the junior lawyer, both in terms of respect from senior lawyers...and in terms of the Seniors' loyalty. Be nice.

Whatever the psychological or genetic reasons, do try to manage your stress, rather than letting it run over you. And take a deep breath. Look around at other professions, and don't assume that you have it so bad. The stresses of law practice are real, and relentless...but they are not unique. And they do carry their own rewards, both financial and intellectual. Hang in there.

Courtesy of Thane J. Messinger, author of The Young Lawyer's Jungle Book: A Survival Guide.

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