By Claudia McGarva
It’s hard to separate work and home. I’m not just talking about finishing off advices in bed, waking up in the middle of the night thinking about work, or feeling constantly guilty about not spending enough time on either front. I’m talking about being in lawyer mode in a relationship, and applying what you learn in legal practice to your relationships.
So here are my top three obnoxious lawyer habits that have transgressed into my personal life. They’re not very romantic, and by no means have I perfected their execution, but they bring an element of control amongst the chaos:
- Quid Pro Quo
It’s December. In the legal profession, this means end of year parties. Now that I have a child, I have to book well in advance for a night off, figure out how I’ll get home, and whether it is worth staying up past 8:30pm. If I’m going to have a night off, it better be worth it.
More importantly, it means I have to cash in my carer credits.
My carer credits are held within a secret bank account. I don’t receive written statements and have to rely upon my poor memory to see how much is sitting there. No one else can access it besides me. It gets topped up when I pick up the parenting slack when my partner has to work late, goes to after work drinks or has an afternoon off from caring duties to have a resemblance of a social life. However, it takes a real dive if I have to stay overnight for a work conference, or go to a Christmas party.
I’m constantly balancing the books. The notion of quid pro quo is something instilled in you through law school and in legal practice. It forms the basis of our daily interactions: something for something. The practice of law is highly transactional.
Likewise, negotiating different roles in a relationship and trying to make something work means trying to make sure both parties don’t feel ripped off and can enjoy the benefits of their investment.
At first glance, this may appear clinical. However, my credit system acknowledges caring duties constitutes work, and it has value – on a micro and macro level. I’m not quite at the stage of recording my time spent on care duties in six-minute increments, but I’m not above it.
- Managing Expectations
I learnt the hard way that you under-promise and over-deliver. In a matter, you are constantly managing client expectations – what is a reasonable outcome? What is an unreasonable outcome? When you will out that advice? When you will get around to reading the flurry of emails?
The same goes for personal relationships.
I promise my mum I will call every Sunday. If I’m going to be late home from work, I try to give my partner as much notice as possible. I have honest and frank conversations with my partner, and myself, about what I can and can’t deliver.
And most importantly, I say no more often than yes. Rather than saying “I’ll try to make it”, and then bail at the last minute, now I try to be completely honest and say “No, I can’t” in the first instance. It’s not a new concept, but when you implement it for the first time it feels revolutionary.
In the early days of my career, I went to networking events to get out of the office and eat tiny food. It was nice meeting other practitioners and then bumping into them at court, slowly recognising more faces around town and having friendlier interactions with other lawyers if they were on the other side in a matter. I then realised the importance of maintaining networks and being able to draw upon the expertise of others to help give your client the best advice and representation, and for your own professional development.
I’ve been able to develop great relationships early in my career that I still have today. However, the most productive network I’ve worked hard to maintain, the one that has been the most beneficial to my career, is the relationship I have with my partner. I wouldn’t be able to work the hours I do at the moment without my partner, and vice versa.
I used to think when I had my son that I was missing out on important events that were, unhelpfully, always scheduled around day care pick up time. Now, I’m slowly getting over the fear of missing out, and realise my family is the most important network I need: to keep me sane, and more importantly, to keep me employed.
There’s plenty more I could add, and my partner has said “stop lawyering me” on more than one occasion when he felt he was being cross-examined. However, there are some perks with being in a relationship with a lawyer: my partner never reads the terms and conditions on a product and/or service because he knows I will. At least I can bring something to the table.