By: Maryam Hatcher, Esq.
Dear Ethical Esquire: Becoming a lawyer has always been my dream. Ten years ago, that dream came true. Now I am a junior partner at a mid-size firm with my own roster of very demanding clients. Meanwhile, some other dreams of mine have also come true – I’ve gotten married and my spouse and I have started a family. Between working all day, parenting all night, and handling firm and family obligations all weekend, I feel like I’m not showing up 100% in any area of my life. Not to mention the fact that I never have time to take care of myself. Despite my plate being completely full, I nonetheless feel pressure to continue taking on new matters at the firm so that I can maintain my partnership stake and make a name for myself. The most recent project I’ve taken on has a client deliverable due next week, and I’m starting to think there are literally not enough hours in the day for me to handle it while also fulfilling my numerous other obligations. Is it unethical for me to keep taking on work when I know the quality will start to suffer over time?
– Burned Out Barrister*
Dearest Burned: Sit down, close your eyes, and take a deep breath. And another deep breath. Now one more.
There. I suspect that you have not indulged yourself with three uninterrupted deep breaths in a while.
First, let’s get to the heart of your legal ethics-related question (after all, that’s what I’m here for). One of the very first rules in the ABA Model Rules of Professional Conduct, Rule 1.1, discusses the requirement of competent representation. Under the Rule, competence includes “thoroughness and preparation,” both of which require that the lawyer taking on the matter has sufficient time. So if you know that your work is coming in at a pace too fast for you to prepare and thoroughly execute your work, then you need to step back and assess how to better manage your workload.
Second, even if you are able to maintain the threshold competence required under the Rules, your overloaded schedule may be impeding your ability to do a stellar job. It’s not just important to keep your license, but you want to make sure that you continue to have a strong reputation as an excellent attorney. Sometimes that means taking fewer assignments or better delegating your responsibilities.
Lastly, you must take care of yourself. Your physical and mental well-being have to be paramount in your life, and that sometimes means responsibly (i.e., in a manner that does not violate your ethical obligations) tuning out your work and attending to yourself. It’s impossible to be a competent attorney with a reputation for exceptional work if you perpetually neglect your personal needs.
Take a few more deep breaths. You got this!
Now – go forth and be ethical!
*Disclaimer: “Burned Out Barrister” is a fictional advice seeker. This blog is satirical in nature and, though it aims to provide helpful guidance regarding professional responsibility dilemmas, it is not intended to offer legal advice.