Red Phone, Blue Phone: Advice for New Attorneys

The Bencher—January/February 2024

By Aimee Wuthrich

A golden Kansas sunset illumines the reds and oranges of the autumn leaves. Judge Hugh Means American Inn of Court mentors and mentees gather on a backyard patio in the crisp evening air. I cluster with the other pupils, fellow law students turned inward as if in a protective huddle. We sip our wine and cast furtive glances outward. This is my first Inn event, and I don’t know what to expect.

As mentors approach and disentangle our cluster, conversations begin. “Get to know you” conversations soon become “when I was a law student” conversations that transition into “the best advice I received as a young attorney” conversations.  

My mentor speaks freely about her work, the twists and turns of her career path, and the difficulties of being a judge. The conversation veers toward other parts of life, her love for musical theater, and where her daughter wants to attend college.  And then, smack in the middle of a very ordinary interaction, she shares a pearl of wisdom that would become some of the best advice I received as a law student and young attorney: “I carry two phones, a red one and a blue one. The red one is for work, and the blue one is for family and friends. When I go home at night, I turn the red phone off immediately. This signals the end of my workday. I get into my comfy clothes, join my family on the couch, and focus on being a wife and a mom.”*

She doesn’t just suggest I learn to balance life and work, doesn’t just prattle on about how an attorney may burn out without it. Instead, she tells me how she does it—practically and tangibly—with the physical separation of work and life on two different phones.

Two years later, when I solicited other Judge Hugh Means Inn of Court members to share the best advice they received as a young attorney, some contributed similar work-life balance wisdom. Others focused on how attorneys should think about their work, provided best practices and practical advice, or emphasized the importance of integrity. The astute guidance engendered by my solicitation came from a cross-section of the Inn—judges and civil litigators, family law attorneys, and those in the public sector. I offer some of their pearls below. (Statements with asterisks were made orally, and I have done my best to recreate them accurately. Statements with quotation marks were shared in writing.)

Work-Life Balance

“The best advice I ever received came from my mentor, who was probably the smoothest trial lawyer I’ve ever seen. He said, ‘We do important work here, but nothing you will ever do in any office is as important as what is going on in your own home!’”

“Learn to set boundaries early on so that you aren’t working around the clock, aren’t checking your emails while you are on vacation, your phone conversations with client’s family members don’t go on and on.”

There is work, and there is family, and then there should be a third thing—learning the saxophone or playing pickleball or baking the perfect loaf of sourdough bread. At our office, we would always ask each other about our third thing. You need a third thing.*

“Get involved with the local bar (statistics show that attorneys who are engaged with other lawyers have lower rates of depression and workplace burnout).”

How an Attorney Should Think about Their Work

“I received a nasty letter from an opposing counsel, and I was worked up and ready to spout off with full fire. As I was complaining to an older lawyer, he asked me how my letter would benefit my client. It stopped me cold. Since then, in all actions, I have asked myself, ‘Does this help my client?’ If it doesn’t, I don’t do it. It has kept me centered, calm, and focused.”

“Like many people, the pieces of advice I have to pass on are things that other people shared with me and that stuck with me. One is to be a problem-solver, not a problem-identifier. The other piece of advice is a related one, which is simply, ‘Figure it out.’ The answer likely will not be obvious, and the road map will not be clear—that’s why people need attorneys—and rather than pointing out how unclear the answer is or simply describing the nature of the problem, your job is to grapple with the problem long enough until you can propose a potential course of action and support it with your reasoning.”

Best Practices and Practical Advice

“Always read the statute. Then read it again.”

“Always personally visit the scene of the crime/accident/incident.”

“Set aside time once a week to read newly published cases so that it becomes a habit.”

Always carry a legal pad and always walk fast. You should be prepared to take notes whenever you talk to a partner, and you don’t want to look like you have time on your hands.*

“Remember that you can fire clients if they are treating you poorly.”

Importance of Integrity

“Remember that your word is your bond. Always. The legal community is very small, no matter the size of the community you practice in—word gets around if an attorney says or does anything less than honest.”


I asked my family the other day about my work-life balance. I am a recent non-traditional law school graduate, finishing in May 2023. My family compared my current work-life balance with my balance during law school. The conclusion was unanimous: I am much more present now, much more available, much calmer. I attribute this good report, in large part, to my mentor’s sage counsel and following that advice.

I don’t have two separate phones. I didn’t take my mentor’s advice quite that literally, but I have adopted the practice in spirit. I leave my work computer at work every evening—it is my red phone. I turn it off when I leave the office and don’t turn it on again until I arrive the next morning. If I have an unusually heavy workload, I stay late, or come in early. But when I walk in the back door to the squeals of my daughters, the bark of my dogs, and my husband’s “how was your day?” my “red phone” is always turned off.

Aimee Wuthrich is a recent graduate of the University of Kansas School of Law in Lawrence, Kansas. She currently works as a law clerk for the U.S. District Court for the District of Kansas. She is a member of the Judge Hugh Means American Inn of Court.

©2024 Aimee Wuthrich. This article was originally published in the January/February 2024 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 written consent of the American Inns of Court.