December 23, 2022

My New Year’s Resolution: Add More Pearls

Thanks to everyone who responded to my blog earlier this month with well-wishes and practical tips on “boundaries” in client service. Your heartfelt encouragement has put wind in my sails. And I’ll reiterate: it’s not goodbye. I look forward to staying involved here, hopefully for a long time!

I heard from folks who have chosen a variety of professional & personal paths, which was inspiring in & of itself. But they all share a few traits with everyone who reads this blog: we’re interested in corporate & securities issues, we’re high performers, and we like to be “in the know.” A dozen common themes emerged:

1. Remember Your Current Goals & Be Strategic: Whatever your current goals are, embrace them without shame and know you’ll need to be strategic to accomplish them. Whenever you are faced with an “ask” that involves using your finite time, ask yourself whether it furthers those goals. If not, pass. Just because you could help solve a problem, doesn’t mean you need to. That may mean passing along opportunities for speaking, committees, or even client matters to someone else.

2. It’s Okay If Your Goals Change: Your goals at 50 probably aren’t the same as what they were at 30. Life is dynamic. Know your values (and your value) – and go with the flow.

3. Practice Saying No: When something is difficult, you need to practice. Write down phrases that will help you say “no” – so that it’s easier to follow through with that in the moment. Example: “Because of competing demands for my time, I have a policy that I won’t open new clients unless the fees are very likely to be at least $X [or we set a minimum fee of $X]. This helps me to ensure that I can focus on the clients that I do take on.”

4. Be Consistent: Set “working hours” and stick to them. Only deviate if there is a true “emergency” – and define “emergency” in a way that means it happens only once/month instead of once/week. Whatever you determine is the best schedule for you (7am – 4pm, 9am – 6pm), block your calendar so that calls aren’t scheduled during your non-working hours. This also gives predictability to your clients and colleagues. It’s a slippery slope if you start to let those boundaries slide.

5. Let It Burn: In the words of one member – “You might ask, ‘But what if there is important work that must get done?’ The answer is it can wait until tomorrow and, if it can’t and the place catches on fire, ‘forget it — let it burn.’ As I am sure you can guess, the place hasn’t burned down. In fact, my team has flourished. I think I’ve had a profound impact on the younger partners and associates behind me because I’ve shown them how this can be done and that, despite what conventional wisdom would have them think, the practice isn’t where we derive our value and we shouldn’t kill ourselves for the benefit of it. Moreover, it has helped them grow because I have empowered them with my absence.” Clients, this does not mean that we are going to let you go up in smoke, it means you have a team to help you instead of just one person. And on that note…

6. Find Your Team: Make your specialty known and valued, but also establish a “team” mentality. Communicate to colleagues and clients who they can go to as a backup when you’re not available. This is a benefit to them, not a detriment, because they get double (or triple) the experience. Have confidence in your team – don’t second-guess each other.

7. Communication is Key: Communicate your schedule and approach to colleagues and clients. Sometimes you have to say “no” to clients or at least advise on timing. Most respect that approach. If they don’t, then keep your goals in mind, and consider gently advising them that you may not be the best fit to serve their needs. Communicate with your team so that everyone who is staffing a particular client is up-to-speed and you can all sub in seamlessly. This requires intentional effort, but it’s worth it.

8. Set Your Out of Office: I used to work with clients who would immediately call the next lawyer on their list if they got a bounceback – so there is some risk to doing this. But it goes back to communication. If you’re going to be “out” for a few hours at night or for a vacation, tell people! Also tell them when you’ll return and who they should go to in your absence. I’ve noticed that the pandemic led to a lot more auto-replies along the lines of: “I’m offline after 5pm ET each night and will respond to your message when I return to my desk at 8am tomorrow. Please contact […] if you need urgent assistance.” And I got a lot of love for my “vacation trailer” auto-reply this summer. I hope the profession has turned over a new leaf.

9. Be Open to Unique Arrangements: Law firms – and companies – are starting to recognize that we’re not all identical cogs in the machine. There are new roles emerging for people at all levels of seniority. If you have an ideal type of work or arrangement, you might be surprised by the receptiveness. For example, some accomplished and semi-retired lawyers are happily pitching in on “overflow” work during proxy season.

10. Don’t Judge Yourself (Or Others): Life is short and tomorrow is not guaranteed. I was touched that people in our community who have been navigating traumatic events wrote in to share their perspective, and this is the message they want us all to know: Make the most of today. Be confident and comfortable in your choices (remember your goals). Never explain why you need to be somewhere other than work. Just say you have a conflict. We don’t need others to evaluate whether our family, health, or other personal obligations are a worthy reason for being unavailable.

11. Have an Accountability Partner: If you imagine it will be difficult to stick to your set schedule, get yourself an accountability partner. Text each other every day when it’s time to close the laptop.

12. Know That You’ll Make Mistakes: I’ve been processing these tips while also watching Stutz on Netflix (thanks, Mel). Jonah Hill’s therapist says that success is the sum of large & small actions – you just have to keep putting the next pearl on the string. But: “Within each pearl is a turd.” Meaning, no effort will be perfect – just keep moving. Others put it this way: “I have so many balls in the air, I have to be okay with a few on the floor.” That’s life, let’s go live it!

Happy “festive season,” everyone. Thanks again to everyone who reads this blog and subscribes to our sites. Big thanks as well to all of you who participate in our community through events, responding to these blogs, posting on the Q&A forums, or otherwise – including this blog’s “list contributor” from a few years ago, Nina Flax, who this list reminds me of. See you in the New Year!

Liz Dunshee