In the days leading up to Veterans Day (a holiday my Firm observes), I was braggadocios about the fact that I was actually going to take a weekday off from work and not physically step foot into the office. Like most young lawyers, I hadn’t taken a weekday off in some time and was looking forward to actually sleeping-in until 8:30. Unsurprisingly, even the best laid plans often go awry.
At 4:30am on Friday morning, the guilt of taking a weekday off work had apparently set in, and I awoke in a tizzy thinking about four separate matters. I grabbed my laptop, went to my couch, and began writing emails and redrafting various motions and responses on the various cases. Much to my chagrin, one of my matters was in the process of blowing up and our firm’s co-counsel on that case began responding to my emails at 4:57am. As you might expect, a chain of emails ensued and lasted until 6:30am when I was asked about my availability to meet with our client at the office. At this point I realized that my day off was doomed and got dressed to go into the office.
Now, the scenario I just described transpired multiple times in years past. A holiday isn’t really a holiday when you’re an attorney unless you actually have travel plans that require you to board some mode of transport and leave the geographic parameters of your home and work. However, this was the first time this set of circumstances occurred since 1) I got married and 2) I bought a house. Having to change my plans on a moment’s notice was not a big deal in my single days when I only had a couch and a beer waiting for me back at home. But now, I have a wife who surprisingly likes me and a house that needs constant attention. It was at this moment that I realized, “Ah, this must be that elusive work-life balance everyone keeps talking about.”
The events of Friday November 11, 2016 provided me with some perspective. First, two events that could occur during your years as a young lawyer include committing to a long-term relationship and buying a house. Even though I was looking forward to spending a day with my wife, taking the time to pressure clean our driveway, and maybe taking a trip to HomeGoods (what has my life become?), the moment an important issue arose in one of my firm’s cases I knew I had to take care of business. Becoming a good lawyer requires learning to have good judgment. An important question to constantly ask yourself is, “What is an emergency and what can wait until Monday?” If you treat everything as dire, then you will burn yourself out, annoy opposing counsel, and be a somewhat obnoxious person. If you are too relaxed about every matter, you will lose ambition, clients, and most importantly the respect of your colleagues.
Which leads me to my second thought: don’t be a millennial stereotype. I constantly hear the more seasoned lawyers in my firm refer to millennials as entitled, arrogant, and lazy. Sadly, they aren’t entirely wrong. The only way to break the stigma associated with our generation is to show up and work. When we decided to go to law school, to a certain extent we knew what we were signing up for. We knew our typical day wouldn’t end at 5:00pm, we knew we would have to sometimes work on the weekends, and yes, deep down, we knew that we would have to occasionally work on holidays. So what? You know who else does that? Soldiers. First Responders. ER Doctors. The common factor in all these professions is dedication and I would be proud to stand in their company.
This may sound depressing, but it shouldn’t be because here is the takeaway: you can “have it all” (home life and work life), you just can’t necessarily have it all at once. You absolutely need to take time for you and your family and set boundaries between work and life; however, one failed day off should not send you down a deep spiral of depression and anxiety. I choose for my time at home to be quality over quantity. When I am there, I am fully there. You need to be able to work with enthusiasm toward your goals at work, and then arrive home ready to enjoy those you love.
To recap: 1) if you find yourself distressed because you have to occasionally work on a day off or a weekend, take a moment to reflect on the fact that you have a job and a lot of people would be quite envious of the quality of life you enjoy; then take a longer moment to think about those who fight every day of the week, here and abroad, to protect our freedoms; 2) remember to always communicate with your spouse or significant other regarding your job responsibilities and how they can sometimes impact your personal life (and theirs); and 3) work to give millennials a better name.
Santo DiGangi is an Associate at Critton, Luttier & Coleman, LLP in West Palm Beach and focuses his practice on Business Litigation, Personal Injury, and Legal Malpractice. Santo serves as an elected representative from the Fifteenth Judicial Circuit on the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors.