As senior lawyers, we often get asked about non-billable hours. There is, no doubt, a lot of stress around being a young lawyer developing a practice, attracting clients, and being authentic in this quest. Growing as a lawyer and individual must always be meaningful and I have spent my career reinventing myself, struggling to ensure I meet the demands of practice and yet staying true to who I am as a person. I have asked my partner, Jennifer Woznesensky, to weigh in on the topic as well addressing some of the specific questions relating to non-billable work that we field.
A commonly asked question is how I find time to give back to the community with the already extensive time commitments in my practice, my firm administrative roles, and my family. The answer is not as complex as you might think. I make time for the things that matter to me in my role in the legal community and the community at large. If I am doing something I enjoy the time commitment is less onerous. So, I would say always choose your non-billable activities based on your interests. It will be near impossible to develop a practice or attract clients if you are feigning interest in the subject matter.
Why do I give my time? Again, the answer is not complex. I do it because it satisfies my need to help others. It is not because I feel a sense of obligation although, to be fair, at some earlier points in my career that is the way I felt. I used to think that there was only one way to give back to the community and that was to sit on a Board or perhaps cold call potential clients and this was always a struggle for me. Even worse was the idea of taking potential clients to lunch or a hockey game not knowing what to say or how to sell my legal skills. I often found myself trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. This forced approach to developing my legal persona just did not benefit me.
So, what changed? I reassessed what it would take for me to feel genuine and I looked for those experiences that would mean something to me and mean something to others. It is true that it is all “time” but there are so many ways to give time and fulfill your needs, both professionally and personally. This realization ended my personal torment. I learned that you do not need to look at every opportunity as only an opportunity for client development which is where I think many young lawyers go wrong. There is just too much pressure if that is the single goal or mindset. Think about enjoying the experience and everything else will fall into place. Opportunities that you find meaningful will allow you to develop confidence. These opportunities will ultimately translate into molding you, making you a better lawyer and potentially a rainmaker. Allow yourself to think outside the traditional box and you will find the options are endless. For example: write an article, judge a moot, help a colleague in need (inside or outside your workplace), offer your time on a pro bono basis, sit on a board that means something to you, sit on a committee at your child’s school or volunteer at a sporting event. The sky is the limit.
Over to you Jen –
I echo your comments above. Some readers may still think, “I am already overloaded trying to balance billable hours with a life outside of law – how can I make this work?”
What has worked for me is being strategic with my time. I have sat on the board of a non-profit society which is connected to my area of practice for over ten years. I love not only what we do but also being able to do it with a great group of board members (shout out to WICC BC). There is a standing appointment in my calendar for our meetings, one morning a month, so it is simply part of my routine. I mentor three paralegals, a student and three associates and organize this largely on my timetable. Since I need to leave the office at 5 p.m. to be with my children, I do breakfasts and lunches with clients and professional contacts instead of dinners. You can choose the best time for you to write an article or to volunteer for an event.
For the “why do it” question, I’m not going to harp about our obligation to others due to the privileges afforded by our profession. Instead, I volunteer because I enjoy connecting with others outside simply handling files. I am so grateful for the help, guidance, and shoulder to cry on (it happens!) provided by both my formal and informal mentors. I entered law not knowing a single lawyer. Over the years, I have relied heavily on the folks at my firm, and I want to give the same assistance to others. Life in Law is providing the same function on a much wider scale.
Volunteering has made me become a better lawyer. Mentoring has forced me to become more patient, more empathetic, and a better listener. It has allowed me to keep in touch with the challenges my younger colleagues are facing, although sadly, some are the same I dealt with when I started over 20 years ago. Working on a board with others in the insurance industry has exposed me to people involved in all aspects of the business. I have developed contacts I can go to when I have questions and they, in turn, do the same with me.
As Kim writes, there are many ways to volunteer, not all of which involve law. Finding something that is enjoyable for you makes it more likely you will stick with it. Walking dogs for the SPCA or doing a beach clean-up up may have nothing to do with your law practice, but it does impact your mental health and helps you keep it all in perspective.
We encourage each of you to give back in your own way and to ensure you think outside the traditional box if you find you are struggling to find a cause or organization that you are passionate about.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Kimberly J. Jakeman, KC is a partner at Harper Grey and – in case this is your first time here – also the co-founder of Life in Law. Not only is Kim a skilled mediator, she also maintains a busy dual practice focused mainly on litigation in the area of medical malpractice, and regulatory work involving professionals facing disciplinary proceedings before a variety of regulatory bodies. Kim is almost as passionate about biking, her new love of surfing, and working out as she is about supporting women in the legal profession. A master of her own balancing act, when Kim isn’t busy with work, she spends coveted time with her family and friends.
Jennifer Woznesensky is a partner at Harper Grey and practices with the firm’s Insurance and Health Law groups. An active volunteer, Jennifer is a director of the B.C. Chapter of the Women in Insurance Cancer Crusade, which raises funds for cancer research.