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Flexibility isn’t just for the yoga mat – try it on your schedule

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Written by Allison Wolf

I will forever be indebted to the young mother, a senior associate at a big firm, who shared with me one of her secret recipes for handling the challenging tension between mom-time and lawyer time: the early escape.

Here’s how it works: One night a week she stays late at the office, until between eight and ten at night, depending on the week. Then, two days later, she leaves the office in the afternoon to pick her kids up early from daycare for some special time with them.

This wonderful “life hack” checks two important boxes for her. She checks her productivity box by getting gets a nice uninterrupted period of time each week to push through a whole lot of work. She also checks her mommy box with this dose of fun unstructured time with her kids.

Once you put in your time and rise in the ranks in a law firm, these opportunities for flex time open up, if you are willing to take advantage of them. The twin bottom lines in private practice – service to clients and the billable hour – can both be well served within a flexible schedule.

It turns out this strategy is also frequently employed by professionals in other sectors. New York Times journalist Neil Irwin reports on this trend in his article: “How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters” citing the research conducted by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business. Reid conducted a study of more than 100 professionals at an elite consulting firm.

“Some 31 percent of the men and 11 percent of the women whose records Ms. Reid examined managed to achieve the benefits of a more moderate work schedule without explicitly asking for it.

They made an effort to line up clients who were local, reducing the need for travel. When they skipped work to spend time with their children or spouse, they didn’t call attention to it. One team on which several members had small children agreed among themselves to cover for one another so that everyone could have more flexible hours.”

Our devices allow us to be connected to the office day and night. For many this on-line connectivity functions as a ball and chain that means we are never truly off work. By setting boundaries though, and using these devices to their full advantage, you can get out of the office and onto the soccer field when you need to. There are many ways to be out of the office and in a meeting. It might be a meeting with clients, or at your child’s school. In the case of one very in-demand associate I know it meant he was at the gym.

There are still those old school lawyers – dare I say dinosaurs – who insist that what really counts is time at your desk. They want to see you in at the office in the early morning and still there past the supper hour. I say what really counts is the quality of your work, your relationship with your clients, and how you manage your practice. All three of these get the most optimal results when you are well rested, energized, and in a positive state of mind.

Coach says: Have a look at your workweek and see where you can introduce some flexibility into the mix. Experiment with mixing up your working hours and see what kind of an impact that has for you overall. And women take note! The research shows that your male colleagues are taking advantage of this more than you are. I especially urge you to get out of the office early some days this summer. Give it a try – you just might like the results.

About the author

Allison Wolf

I am the founder of AWAL and a lawyer coach with over a decade of experience helping clients overcome challenges and achieve success however they define it. In practice this can be many things from helping a law firm partner get more “dad time” with his young family, to coaching a lawyer on the business development strategy, skills, and implementation to grow her legal practice. After a career in legal marketing and business development with law firms in Beijing, New York, and Vancouver, I was trained as a coach in 2004 at Royal Roads University and coach clients from across North America. You can reach me at allison@shiftworks.ca or visit my website thelawyercoach.com.

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