Why Are You at the Office Until 10 p.m.?

My first day as a new associate at a large law firm in Chicago was on September 17, 2001. I was joining the firm’s Corporate Restructuring group which, given the prior week’s terrorist attacks and the resulting uncertainty about the economy, was suddenly thrust into a storm of activity. I had a sense going in that things were going to be rough, but the reality far exceeded even the high-end of my expectations.

Monday through Friday for the next several months all involved late nights, often past midnight. I typically worked a full day on either Saturday or Sunday, sometimes both.

Eventually, things settled down a bit, but I still found myself working late into the night. It was still rare if I got home before 9 p.m. Looking back, I didn’t need to work this schedule. I realize now that I simply never figured out how to structure my day. It’s like I became addicted to the busyness and adrenaline. When I did have a window of time that was not consumed by an urgent demand, I didn’t know what to do with myself.

I don’t think my situation was unique. Few young lawyers are thoughtful about how to plan their days in such a way to avoid the exhaustion and burnout that affect so many.

With the perspective gained from experience and trial and error, I attempted to distill some of the lessons I learned into a framework that can help lawyers structure their work and lifestyle processes in a balanced manner that enables both a successful career, and a satisfying life outside of the office. I shared my thoughts in an article I wrote for Attorney at Work, which you can read here