One of the lessons taught to impressionable law school students is that “the law is a jealous mistress.” This statement seems to convey the sentiment that being a successful lawyer means working hundreds of hours and forsaking recreation or time spent with family. But, is working more really what it takes to practice law successfully?
Interestingly, the context and origin of the statement conveys an entirely different meaning and is void of pernicious intent. Upon his inauguration as a professor of law at Harvard University on August 25, 1829, Justice Joseph Story declared that the law “is a jealous mistress and requires a long and constant courtship. It is not to be won by trifling favors, but by lavish homage.” The true intent of the statement was about commitment to the law rather than to the quantity of time required to practice law. Like any relationship, being committed to someone does not come at the cost of sacrificing all else. Love does not require infatuation. We can be committed to the law without the practice of law consuming us.
In our profession, we are conditioned to constantly strive for perfection. Because the matters we work on rarely turn out perfectly, however, it is easy to feel as though we are constantly failing and invoke the need to work more. Indeed, anxiety and stress may become so absorbed into the fabric of our lives that it may be hard to remember what life felt like pre-law.
Our jobs as lawyers do not have to manage us. Each day, week, month, and year avails us the same amount of time. We cannot make time, so we have to take time. For me, taking time from practicing law has meant different things at various times in my career. During my busiest years as a young associate in big law, I took time each Saturday to take my three very young children for bagels. For a few years, this was my only special one-on-one time with my daughter and two sons. During other years, I pre-planned and committed time to annual vacations regardless of my trial calendar—which inevitably changed but yet did not interfere with my personal plans. Other lawyers I know belong to exercise groups that require committed attendance that forces them to take the time to participate in activities outside the office. Other lawyers engage in hobbies, like painting, playing music, or playing sports. Many lawyers enjoy hiking. One lawyer I know even refuses to access his work email from his cell phone, so he is not tempted to check and respond to emails when he is out of the office. Practicing law does not have to incite the jealous mistress.
In this issue, you will find six articles on various aspects of law practice management that range from fraud prevention to virtual deposition tips. I encourage you to take the time to read all of the articles, regardless of your practice area or the size of the firm where you practice. Although not all of the articles in this issue—and other issues of the Communiqué—may appear relevant to your specific practice or affiliation with a firm, you will learn something that is relevant to fellow colleagues and CCBA members. As we strive for true equity in the bar, appreciating information that is relevant to others helps us better understand and relate to one another. (And, if you are not sure what I mean by equity, please go back and read the “Racial Justice” issue of Communiqué* (February 2021)).
About the author
James E. Harper is the founding member of Harper Selim, PLLC, a civil and commercial litigation firm. James’s practice is focused on insurance matters, including coverage and bad faith, and appellate matters. James is president of the CCBA through December 2021.
About this article
This article was originally published in the “Law Practice Management” issue of Communiqué, the official publication of the Clark County Bar Association, (May 2021). See https://clarkcountybar.org/about/member-benefits/communique-2021/communique-may-2021/.
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