Bench & Bar of Minnesota is the official publication of the Minnesota State Bar Association.

Holiday Stories

It’s a Wonderful Life (and Work Balance)

By Leo I. Brisbois

Boozhoo Niijii; Gdinimikoon. Hello, Friend; I greet you in a good way.

The Ojibwe/Anishinaabe people traditionally reserved the months between “freezing-over time”—gashkadino giizis (November) and “maple-sap-boiling time”—iskigamizige giizis (April) as the time for the telling of traditional stories—aadizookaanag. Stories are transformative—the listener learns and changes—that is why stories were told only in the cold of the winter season to preserve their transformative powers. The stories told by the elders among the families who came together in the winter camps were highly honored and served many purposes: they brought family members together, they were entertainment, they taught lessons to the young, they passed on the oral history of the people, and they maintained the traditions from one generation to the next.

During the present holiday season, the members of our profession “should” be trying to find time to come together for special moments with their own families—both immediate and extended.  I say “should” because for a very great many of our colleagues the stresses and demands of their professional lives are much too far out of balance with their personal lives.

Need for Balance

Studies demonstrate the very real need for the members of our profession to find their own satisfying work/life balance: 51 percent of lawyers are reported to experience stress at higher levels than is “normal” for the general population, lawyers are known to suffer significant levels of depression at more than twice the rate of the general public, and nearly 20 percent of lawyers suffer from substance abuse as compared to only 8 percent of the general public. Most disturbing of all, lawyers are more than twice as likely to die from suicide as are members of any other profession or occupation.1 The foregoing statistics do not distinguish between judges, large firm lawyers, inhouse lawyers, small firm lawyers, solo lawyers, experienced lawyers, new lawyers, or even law students; we all, as a profession, are subject to the inordinate pressure and stresses that are commensurate with practicing law.

There is no one right answer to the question of what is a good work/life balance; that is because the answer to that question is different for each one of us, dependent upon our own core values, principles, and personal goals and priorities.  However, what serves as a common foundation to most successful resolutions of this question is first to honestly assess our own priorities and identify what really matters to us in life, and then to make necessary changes in our professional and personal lives to work toward those priorities.  Of course, the choices we may need to make may sometimes be difficult, and may not always please others around us in the short term.  However, adhering to our core principles and priorities will always serve as our best guide in developing a successful, individualized work/life balance.   Finally, take a longer view and as you regularly reassess your work/life balance, consider how you have spent your time over a period of several months to determine whether you have been acting consistent with your own core priorities and values.

Friends & Family

It is not only important to each of us lawyers to achieve an appropriate work/life balance; it is also important for the benefit of our friends and families. Just as lawyers individually suffer the consequences from the absence of a meaningful work/life balance, the stress, conflicts, and sometimes all-too-consuming scheduling demands that we face in the practice of law also echo through our personal relationships and negatively impact the loved ones closest to us in a real way.

Accordingly, during the present winter holiday season—perhaps more than any other time of year—we should all find and take the time to reaffirm or start to build our own, individualized work/life balance by focusing on what for each of us should be one of our core life priorities: our families. The holiday season is a time to come together with our families to entertain one another, teach our respective lessons of faith to our children, keep our individual family histories and family rituals alive for another generation, and to tell one another our own traditional stories—aadizookaanag.

My sincere wishes to you all for health and happiness during the holidays and in the coming year.  Mino-Ayaawin Omaa Akiing—Peace here on Earth.

Miigwech bizindawiyeg.  Thank you for listening to me.

1 If you believe that you are suffering inordinately from stress, depression or other mental illness, or find yourself abusing drugs or alcohol, there are resources readily available to you where you can find free and confidential professional help.  Please contact Lawyers Concerned for Lawyers at (866) 525-6466 (toll-free), or on the web at , where, as their logo says, “There is Help and There is Hope.”

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