How do you achieve a work-life balance?
California Lawyer
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How do you achieve a work-life balance?

In our Q&A series, we ask lawyers from around the state questions about the legal profession.

March 2013

I've come to learn that riches in life are not through money, but through relationships. So whenever I can connect with family or friends or other people who mean a lot to me, that's what it's really all about. Overall it is unhealthy to isolate oneself, and we tend to do that in this profession. That's why it's not only important to maintain those personal relationships, but one should also join and participate in things like your local bar association. Isolation, truthfully, can end up in chemical dependency or depression or other health issues that are very negative. In regard to keeping a good balance mentally, I think it's important to remember that our role is in service - that gives us some humility. Remember to contribute and give of yourself, but also recognize that you have the option to change things. If I'm not happy with something I'm doing, I do something else. Oh, and exercise first thing in the morning. If I don't get to it right away, I never get to it.

- James O. Heiting is the managing partner at Heiting and Irwin in Riverside. The firm specializes in personal injury, wrongful death, and medical malpractice.


It's really all about organization - the more organized you can be, the better off you are. I live and die by a color-coded Google calendar that I share with my husband. We plot things out as far in advance as we can, and that way, we know where we're going to be at any given time between now and May. I have a son who's two years old-if you can do things like lay out your child's clothes before you go to bed, you're in good shape. And when you cook, for example, make more so you have leftovers. Also, make a designated time for errands - mine is 8 am to 12 pm on Saturday. The other major advice I can give to lawyers on this topic is: Choose your partner wisely. My husband is an engineer, and the ITO of his organization. But he's also an extremely hands-on dad and helps out with everything.

-Bari A. Williams is counsel in the legal department at
AAA NCNU Insurance Exchange in Walnut Creek,
where her work focuses on commercial contracts and privacy.


This is not a 9 to 5 job. Lawyers take on the problems of their clients, and you need to be responsive and you also need to be responsible. In that sense, there is no balance. On the other hand, I think that it's important to set realistic limits with yourself and your clients, and that can be hard for young lawyers to do, especially in a large firm. You don't have to check your email constantly. Make a rule for yourself: Don't check your email after 9 pm. If you're in trial or a major transaction, that's different, but in general, it can wait until the morning. If you have childcare responsibilities, you have to say so. When my kids were little, I once had to say to a judge, "I can't be there at 8 am, because I have to take my kids to preschool." He had no problem with that. One of the lawyers on the other side, an associate, took me aside and thanked me, because he had the same problem. It's also really important to do something that's not connected to being a lawyer. Get outside and run around, play music, go traveling. I play the piano and the guitar, and some classical and some rock 'n' roll. But you know, I'm not quitting my day job.

Charles N. Bendes is a partner at Kornfield, Nyberg, Bendes & Kuhner in Oakland. He works on business and commercial real estate matters, while his partners focus on bankruptcy.


I think the fundamental thing is to have a good support system. If you're married or have a long-term partner, it's very important that they understand the work you do and its importance. They have to share your commitment to your other commitments. My husband is also a prosecutor, and we have an 11-month-old son, so when my husband is working 12-hour days on a murder case, I get that. I've taken on the bar presidency, and he's very in tune with how important that is to me. I also focus on really being present when I am home with my son and with my husband. I try to make sure that I'm engaged with them and not with the two email accounts my phone is connected to. Also, I try to schedule fun things: I'll put an evening with my girlfriends on the calendar, for example. And when those dates roll around, don't guilt yourself out of it. The world is not going to end if you honor this commitment to yourself to do an enjoyable thing.

Marcella O. McLaughlin is a prosecutor in the
San Diego District Attorney's office, and the President
of the San Diego County Bar Association.


I've worked in law firms where 12-hour days were light and now run my own business, where employees and clients all rely on me at all times. Each week, generally on Monday morning, I attack my calendar with a vengeance. By this, I mean I make a daily to-do list (often setting email alerts) with items I must address that day. I also, and this is key, schedule downtime in. Whether it is time with family or friends, or 30 minutes of reading my current favorite book, I plan for it. Prior to my "to-do" lists, I found myself wasting precious minutes trying to recall certain items on my list. In my weekly calendar, I also schedule time for "being active." For me, sitting behind a computer for hours on end is mentally and physically exhausting. I leave my office tired and of little use to my family or friends. I have learned that spending 30 to 60 minutes each day being active and preparing (quick) healthy meals provides me with the energy I need to be of ultimate value to my team at work, my clients, and finally, my loved ones and friends at home.

Kristen A. Marquis's Los Angeles-based company,
WebPresence, Esq., assists lawyers in building their online presence.


If you or a California lawyer you know would like to participate in our Q&A series, contact karmah_elmusa@dailyjournal.com.

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