Balancing the practice of law and life

first_img September 15, 2002 Gary Blankenship Senior Editor Regular News Balancing the practice of law and life Senior EditorA lawyer took his family skiing in the mountains. But rather than relishing the perfect scenery and refreshing exercise, he found himself scheming for ways to buy local real estate or a condominium.He wasn’t, author and lawyer Mike Papantonio said, enjoying the experience but instead was trying to figure out how to exert control — and in the process ruining his enjoyment.The lesson? “The best we can do for our family and the best we can do for our community is enjoy the moment we have now,” Papantonio said.Papantonio, sometimes showing a revival preacher’s fervor, brought that message to the Board of Governors at its August meeting. The lawyer and author of Resurrecting Aesop’s Fables and Searching for Atticus Finch was the luncheon speaker at the board’s Sarasota gathering and said his goal is to help lawyers bring balance to their lives.Papantonio has spent years surveying lawyers about what they like and don’t like about their lives and profession. Much of what he has found is that lawyers pour too much effort into their practice to the exclusion of other parts of their lives. And that eventually affects their personal, civic, and even professional activities.His talk was peppered with findings of surveys he’s taken of lawyers over several years. Among the findings:• 76 percent of respondents “said they dramatically needed to improve their quality of life.”• 97 percent “said addictive, destructive ambition is threatening to destroy the profession.”• “84 percent said “that lack of balance [in their lives] was causing problems, but no one was doing anything about it.”• “82 percent find it difficult to say they have enough.”• “80 percent characterize themselves as raising expectations after every accomplishment, no matter how unrealistic” those expectations are.• Only 16 percent said they ever took a course other than CLE.The result is lawyers spend so much time being lawyers, that their lives lose balance, their personal and family lives suffer, and they even wind up losing the perspective that makes them good lawyers, Papantonio said.As an example, he cited Clarence Darrow. Perhaps the most famous lawyer of the 20th century, Darrow quit the only regular legal job he had because he found it incompatible with his lifestyle. And despite handling slews of high profile cases, he always made time to travel extensively, and he wrote more than 50 books.Those diversions, especially traveling, didn’t hurt Darrow’s courtroom performance, but lent perspective and understanding, Papantonio said.“Sometimes we have to reject what has been handed down to us on how we’re supposed to lawyer and how we’re supposed to live,” he told the board. “How dare you tell young lawyers that it’s good for them to bill 3,000 hours a year. How dare you tell a young lawyer his future depends on the number of cases he brings in.”Lawyers frequently get caught up in the trap of seeking more personal wealth and possessions and more power, only to find they can never get enough of either, he said.“People don’t have a picture of how much is enough and whether their expectations will be satisfied and leave them alone,” Papantonio said. “One author called it the hamster syndrome — they’re running on a wheel, not quite sure when they are going to get off.“The basic problem is it’s driven by ego, it’s driven by unhealthy ego,” he added. “It’s driven by not having enough just for today, but enough for 20 years. And do they have more than the other guy.. . . It’s always a matter of trying to move into the next income bracket. It’s illusory. You can do it all your life and you won’t get there.. . . We’re addicted to having more than the other guy, and we’ve never thought about it in 30 years of professional life.”And the reason it’s particularly a problem, Papantonio said, is because De Tocqueville was right: Democracy works only because lawyers work. And that means problems in the profession mean problems for democracy.He urged board members to find balance in their lives and those of members of their firms.“Don’t wait until your next project comes in. Don’t wait until you’re elected to the next big office. Your family doesn’t care, and your community doesn’t care,” he said. Balancing the practice of law and lifelast_img read more