Issue: October, 2006
Author: Mark W Harris
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Balancing on a Tightrope
I’m up on the tightwire
One side’s ice and one is fire
It’s a circus game with you and me
I’m up on the tightrope
One side’s hate and one is hope
but the tophat on my head is all you see
and the wire seems to be
the only place for me
a comedy of errors
and I’m falling
- Leon Russell – Tightrope
Where are Donna Reed and Ward Cleaver when we need them? Donna and Ward had absolutely no problem balancing family, career and the whole world. Obviously, Leon Russell was not a disciple of Donna and Ward. Perhaps he more accurately described the struggle we all have with balancing the time demands of the profession, the need for a quality relationship with the significant others and family in our lives and the need to just be alone. Other than to revisit the exciting days of television yester year, what can we do to avoid becoming a comedy of errors and falling – or more importantly, becoming imbalanced.
I have to admit, I was somewhat surprised when I was contacted by the Editor and asked to contribute an article for the Wyoming Lawyer. Dispensing advice or wisdom on the perfect balance of work and family and social life admittedly is not an area in which I have any definite advantage or knowledge of. Now, if you want to talk about golf, hockey or NASCAR, I would feel a bit more comfortable. However, knowing a commitment was made and relied on, I am duty bound to do my best. A bit of forewarning: my experiences are just those – experiences. My words or wisdom have no guarantee of success.
So, what are you going to do? You practice law. You have a relationship with a person that is very significant in your life. You may have a child or children, or grandchildren. You probably want to have some type of relationship with your co-workers outside the confines of the office in which you live. Now what do you do if you want to spend time with friends or pursue some type of recreation? What if you decide to attempt a second career or enter public service on what is supposed to be a part-time basis? You truly are on the tightrope, but you may be able to avoid the ice and fire, keep your balance and not fall.
First, we can start with “us” the lawyers. In my experience, I have found members of the Wyoming Bar to go above and beyond the realms of reasonableness in accommodating scheduling conflicts that can and will occur. Just ask. And ask early. Opponents and co-counsel have been very willing to accommodate conflicting schedules. Try to reciprocate and accommodate them when possible. It really does not hurt. You just have to ask, be candid and do not place anyone in a position in which you would not want to be. This may be the Harris corollary to “do unto others as you would have done unto you.”
Tell the court or other tribunal of any scheduling accommodations you may need as soon as you know about them. Again, it has been my experience that, as with opposing counsel involved in a proceeding, our courts and tribunals will be more than willing to attempt to accommodate those conflicts that occur between public service and the practice of law. I believe that the Wyoming Judiciary is very receptive to service of attorneys to the public and will always listen to a request or accommodation that results from such service.
Second, it is imperative that you rely on and trust your partners or those who work with you or for you. If you are a solo practitioner, it certainly does not hurt to contact one of your peers in the community for assistance. The reliance on partners to assume one’s work load is a given. Tell them you appreciate the sacrifices they make so that you can enter public service. Also be willing to assist them when they need a reciprocal helping hand. Likewise, you will find that your office staff can run quite well without you. Good communication with your staff can fill in many of the gaps and voids caused by your physical absence from the office. Your staff also needs to be recognized for the efforts that they make on your behalf. They truly do go above and beyond the call of duty to help in this regard.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, do not forget to acknowledge, appreciate and thank your spouse, partner, significant other and your family for their patience and assistance. For anyone who serves the public, we would not be where we are without the support of our loved ones. More importantly, without the patience of those who are in our every day lives, we would surely fall. Acknowledge that you are in the position you are because of their support and patience and reciprocate that support at some time when they choose to pursue a goal. You can also include them whenever possible in your public service lives. You may learn something along the way.
Fourth, and finally, balance cannot be achieved without a continued relationship with your friends outside the practice of law. I am sure we all have our friends or a group of friends with whom we pursue non-law related activities or activities that may be outside of any public service we pursue. Do not abandon all aspects of social life or friendships to pursue public service or the practice of law. Your friends are another reason that you end up serving the public. Never underestimate the value of those friends that you have. Closely related to this issue is the necessity to exhibit a sense of humor, have fun and not take yourself so seriously. It is true there is a time and place to be serious and an advocate, but it is not all the time.
The ingredients for maintaining your balancing act are not new to any of us, nor have they been thought of for the first time here. However, a gentle reminder of the need to keep our place with our families, friends, colleagues and courts is always a good reminder of how we can hopefully balance our careers as lawyers with public service and private lives. The experience can be extremely rewarding and should be shared with those who helped you get where you are.
Mark W Harris received his J.D. from the University of Wyoming College of Law in 1982 and has practiced law in Evanston, Wyoming ever since. Mark served as the Commissioner for the 3rd Judicial District from 1994 to 1997 and Secretary/Treasurer from 1997 to 2002. He served as 2005-2006 President of the Wyoming State Bar. Mark is currently the Mayor of Evanston and the Republican candidate for House District 49.
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