Bear with me as I tell you a short story, of a baby blogger named Lindsay. She was four years into her career in the legal industry, still learning by doing, and didn’t think she had much, if anything, to say. A new social media platform called Twitter had launched in 2006, and she joined two years later, finding it a fun community to engage with other legal professionals around the world. It was also a fantastic way to learn – they shared articles and news and had in-depth conversations around them. Almost like sitting together in a room discussing them, only behind a computer screen.
More and more, she realized that she had thoughts to add to those conversations that went beyond the 140-character limitation that Twitter imposed on her (at that time). So on a February day – February 25th to be exact – she had some strong thoughts about the darling of the legal industry: the billable hour.
After agonizing over some blog titles (including “I Love Lawyers More than Brussels Sprouts”), she settled on “Zen and the Art of Legal Network Marketing,” which eventually became “Zen & the Art of Legal Networking,” and penned her first post. Twelve years and 1,372 posts later (not all written by me, thanks to my delightful and regular guest authors!), here we are! And somehow, we still haven’t killed the billable hour. Sigh.
I have had the great fortune to get to discuss with my audience topics that I love and am deeply interested in, like the future of the law firm, the impact of the pandemic on mental health, leadership and excellence, social media, and content marketing, and so much more. Blogging has lead to building relationships that I could not have imagined, both personally and professionally, and has enriched my life in a way that cannot adequately be measured.
The traditional gift for a 12th anniversary is linen, but the modern gift is pearls; so because I adore puns, on this 12th anniversary of Zen & the Art of Legal Networking, I will offer you these “pearls” of wisdom that I have learned, particularly in the last year:
- Work will always be there. The people that you love will not. Particularly in this industry, when we moved to remote working (and I’m giving you this advice as someone who has worked from home for all 17 years of my career in legal), it became impossible to separate our work lives from our home lives. Raise your hand if you have thought at any point of this pandemic “But my email is right there, and I can just answer one more,” and one became hours of more work. None of us will retire or die with an empty inbox. But is that what we want to remember at the end of our lives?
I’m not suggesting that we neglect our work, or not serve our clients with diligence and passion – but we can do that *and* create necessary boundaries. Insist on an end to your workday. Create a separate workspace. Turn off your email and consider taking it off your phone on the weekends (maybe even all the time, since we’re not really going anywhere at the moment). I understand this sounds traitorous, but when you create these boundaries, and you fill up your own self FIRST, you give your best work self at the office too, even when the office is within your home. And you also give your best self to your loved ones, because they get the full version of you too.
- We are still working through a pandemic. Whether you are back in the office or working from home, we are likely more stressed than usual, perhaps not managing things at our highest and best levels, and there is an incredible degree of uncertainty that everyone is living with – when will I be eligible for a vaccine? Will that allow life to go back to “normal”? What will “normal” look like? Is my family safe? When will the kids go back to school? Will someone be exposed? Will they have to quarantine? Will I have to quarantine? Is this my week in the office? Did I remember to bring everything that I needed home? Why haven’t I set up an adequate place to work in my home yet? And on and on. Life is stressful, at a minimum. Somedays, you will be on fire, operating on all cylinders and behaving like the work ninja you are. Other days, it will feel like you’re walking through a fog, and you won’t be able to figure out why every email you’re trying to answer takes twice as long. Try to take both days with some grace, and also share that grace with others. It’s okay to not be okay – we’ve never experienced something like this before. We’re not going to get it right every day, or even most days.
- Adapting is good, and necessary. I know, this is a hard one. We didn’t want to do it, and so we were forced to by this terrible pandemic. But there have been some benefits to it, right? My philosophy is that when terrible things happen, we have to look for the silver lining, not because things are meant to be (I don’t buy into that), but because if bad things are going to happen anyway, we might as well figure out how to cope with them. So because we have been forced to adapt, and to take on more virtual connections, we know that it is possible to stay connected more regularly through zoom and other platforms. That’s not to say we won’t all be thoroughly grateful to get back to traveling and seeing each other in person – there is no substitute for that. But there are times when it’s less practical to travel, or when it would have been nice to see everyone’s face instead of holding a telephone call, and these will be the things we can take advantage of in the future. We’ll create hybrids of in-person and virtual opportunities, and it will again make the world feel smaller. When we can’t see each other, we’ll still be able to “see” each other – and maybe when it’s voluntary, we’ll hate it a little bit less.
We’ve also learned that because we were able to adapt so quickly, and in some ways, it must be possible to adapt in other ways too. I’m sure many lawyers don’t want to hear this, or make any more changes than we’ve had to make already, but some of the changes that have been necessary haven’t been so bad, have they? Electronic document signing is much less burdensome than doing it in person all the time, isn’t it? Certain zoom meetings have become far more efficient than having to leave the office and be somewhere in person, right? It’s not all perfect or preferable, but it’s not all bad either.
A pandemic will certainly bring things into sharp focus – efficiencies, priorities, goals, your support system. Over the last twelve years, I have been so fortunate to engage here with you, my dear readers, to delve into meaty topics and lighter ones. I look forward to many more chats to come.