Work–Life Balance: Excellence in the Moment as a Lawyer, Juggler, and Firefighter

The Bencher—November/December 2016 

By Stephanie Albrecht-Pedrick, Esquire

People ask me all the time, “How do you do it?” My answer? “I don’t know, I just do.” The conversation of course is about the fine art of work–life balance. I am no master, believe me; I often feel as though I am failing miserably at everything. But I suppose since people are asking me about my balancing act skills, I must be doing something right.

Life is always a balancing act. Think about when you were young and in school, you know…before responsibility set in. You still had to balance homework time with play time, sports time, and family time. You probably never had to think about it because someone else (a parent) set the schedule for you. Yet therein lies the answer. Work–life balance begins with a schedule. I schedule almost everything. I have to. If it is not on the schedule, it might not happen. My schedule starts with my work (client meetings, depositions, court appearances, etc.) and professional obligations (Inn meetings, bar association events, and CLEs). Then, I fill in with my personal life. These things include everything from getting my kids dressed and ready for school, to dentist appointments, parent–teacher conferences, my son’s holiday concert, field trips, Cub Scouts (I am a den leader), cocktails with a friend, and my latest hobby, knitting.

Of course there are times when work and life “worlds” collide, like when a child gets sick. On a recent Monday morning, as my almost-4-year-old descended the stairs with flushed cheeks and a warm forehead, I thought, “Hmmm, that’s odd.” He was acting normal otherwise, so I proceeded in my normal routine of dropping him at preschool. I had a very important mediation planned that day in my office. Six people, including four other attorneys, were scheduled to arrive at 10 a.m. And then my cell phone rang.

I recognized the number and felt the dread in the pit of my stomach. My child was sick. He had a fever of 102 degrees. He had to go home. My mind started racing. Now what?! Neither my husband nor my in-laws could pick him up. I began to scramble. This is when your skills as a juggler and firefighter become essential. There was a fire in my personal life (sick child) that needed my attention. But what about work? What about all these people on their way to my office? I was scheduled to work with this case all day. Stop. Deep breath. How can I fix this? I need time.

I made a quick Hail-Mary call to a friend. Recognizing the stress in my voice, she rearranged her own work schedule so she could pick up my son and take him back to her house for a few hours. (I have promised to repay the favor). Next, I politely pleaded with other counsel and clients that we limit our time to three hours and resume another day. I am grateful for their understanding. The fire was extinguished, but now I had to juggle. I tossed some work in a briefcase and was able to multi-task at home that afternoon by conducting a conference call from my cell phone and occupying my son with a movie at the same time. Within a day, my son felt better and the mediation was completed later that week.

On days like that, it’s easy to feel like I have failed. I was not the perfect lawyer, nor the perfect mother. Over time, however, I have learned that perfection, in anything, is elusive. There will always be obstacles or challenges. Perfection should not be the goal. Excellence in the moment is the goal. Do the best you can with the task at hand, whether it is representing your client in court, coaching a youth sport team, or soothing a sick child. Aiming for excellence in the moment will help you achieve the balance needed to have a rich and full life in a variety of contexts. But it all starts with a schedule.

Everything on the schedule needs to be a priority. When my son asks me to chaperone his field trip, but I have a client meeting scheduled, I must say no. Likewise, when a client emails me after 6 p.m., I usually resist the urge to reply. Evening time is scheduled with my family—even if only on mundane things like making dinner, supervising kids with homework, or attending a Cub Scout meeting. The boundaries I set between work and personal life are an important factor for achieving happiness within my daily chaos. After all, that e-mail will be there in the morning, and I can give a better response with a fresh mind.

Attaining healthy work–life balance means aiming for excellence in the moment, instead of perfection. Armed with a schedule, establish boundaries and stick to them unless and until an emergency strikes. When it does, grab your circus balls and fire hose.

Stephanie Albrecht-Pedrick, Esquire is an attorney with the firm Youngblood Franklin Sampoli & Coombs, P.A. in Linwood, New Jersey. She is a member of the executive board of the Vincent S. Haneman American Inn of Court.

©2016 Stephanie Albrecht-Pedrick, Esquire. This article was originally published in the November/December 2016 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.