In the good old summertime

Some thoughts as to the interaction between our profession and our real lives

Shawn McCann
2019 August

Summer is a time for vacations, beaches, barbecues and family. But our law practices don’t slow down. This became very real to me this summer and got me thinking.

I was set for trial July 22. I was also set to leave with my wife and kids to visit my Dad and siblings in Seattle on July 26. This yearly trip is my kids’ favorite time of year. Cousins, uncles and aunts, boating, swimming, sleepovers, and time when none of the adults go to work. Obviously, I had been betting that the case would settle.

Three weeks before trial, expert depositions were in full swing. My Fourth of July weekend plans were all but canceled. I was beginning to accept that I might only be able to make a cameo appearance in Seattle. As I contemplated my bad luck, it occurred to me that I had missed parts of three of the last four Seattle trips due to being in trial. Maybe this wasn’t bad luck as much as poor judgment in weighing my clients’ interests and my family’s.

The case did settle. (Special thanks to mediator Hon. Richard Stone for saving my summer.) The idea that I may need to reassess priorities did not go away. I hope I am not the only one that struggles with responsibilities of family and the demands of work. I hope you will forgive me if this article strays from strictly CAALA topics to give some thought to the interaction between our profession and our real lives.

First, I love being a husband and father. I am fortunate to have a wonderful (and understanding) wife and four amazing children. I coach three soccer teams, make it to most baseball and softball games, and never miss a theater performance. I still read books out loud to my kids and love introducing them to the movies I watched in the ’80s and ’90s.

I also love being a lawyer. Each case presents unique facts, different issues to solve, and opportunities to use the law to gain an advantage for my client. Each of our clients entrusts us with their case, their story, their chance at achieving justice when they have been wronged. It is an immense responsibility that should not be taken lightly.

Our work responsibilities don’t end with legal work. Most of us have responsibilities in running the business of a law practice. Solo practitioners and lawyers at smaller firms are the de facto human resources director, marketing department, business development manager, accounts managers, etc. No matter how hard we work, there is always more to do.

In addition to work and family, we all have friendships that require time and thoughtfulness to maintain. I am sure we can all picture two or three friendships that have suffered for lack of time. Last, but not least, we have ourselves to maintain. Working out, healthy eating, rest, sleep, and other interests compete for our time.

To be honest, I have never liked the term “work-life balance.” It connotes a state of peaceful equilibrium that can be obtained and simply maintained. In real life, the demands of work, family, friends and self change each month, week or day. I often feel like the weights on the scales are constantly in flux as trials, vacations, sports seasons, birthdays, etc. come and go.

While I cannot claim to have achieved work-life balance, I can say that I have implemented a few practices that make it more bearable. At work, time management is key. I make lists of tasks and goals and then triage them: 1. Must do today; 2. Should do today; and 3. Would be nice to do today. Having a written list helps me visualize what I need to complete, constantly update my priorities, and gives me the satisfaction of checking off items.

A difficult skill that I am learning is delegating. Letting go of a task and trusting another to complete it can be difficult. On the other hand, effective time management requires that responsibilities be delegated when possible. I have found that the CAALA Legal Staff group has helped my time management by giving my staff members resources and a list serve to turn to in order to find answers and assistance. Similarly, consulting the CAALA list serve and document bank has saved me an untold number of hours finding information on experts and law and sample documents.

An all-inclusive calendar is my foundation. I don’t only calendar depositions, hearings, flights, and legal deadlines. I calendar soccer practices, softball games, and even what time I told my family I will be home from work that day. Then, I try to treat all the items with equal importance. I wouldn’t show up 30 minutes late to court and I try to give my family the same respect.

On the days that I go into the office, I have a long commute. I need to use that time for making calls. Driving and talking seem to be the only multitasking that I am good at. I do make an exception for the final 15 minutes of my commute home. For the last leg of my commute, I transition from work. I do not speak on the phone. I do not listen to news radio. I turn on music and think about what I am excited to talk to Sarah and the kids about, how happy I will be to see them, and what I will ask them about. By the time I get home, the to-do list has been pushed to the back of my mind, the stress has mellowed, and I am ready to be “Dad.”

One practice I am working on, is not making promises I cannot keep. It sounds simple enough, but sometimes it is easier to tell a client or coworker what they want to hear, even if you aren’t sure you can deliver. While I sometimes disappoint my family by telling them that I won’t be home in time for dinner, it is far less disappointing than breaking a promise to appear.

Learning to say “no” has been a harder lesson for me. I enjoy spending time working with CAALA, CAOC, and ABOTA. There are countless ways to get involved, plan an event, speak at a seminar, etc. At work, we are always adding to the list of calls to make, letters to write, depositions to cover and hearings to attend. My initial reaction is always, “Yes, I can do that.” But after living through the stress and often disappointing results of hurried work, I have learned that saying “no” is sometimes the right answer. As a supervisor, hearing “no” can sometimes be disappointing. On the other hand, it is better than an associate promising to complete a task that doesn’t get done.

Finally, the last strategy I learned from Jack Girardi. One morning, I saw him get to his desk and put his smart phone in a drawer. After I asked, he told me that he works better without the constant distractions a phone, “and if anyone really needs me, they can call the office phone.” He went on to say that he puts his phone in a drawer when his sons are home for dinner. It seemed odd until I tried it. The attention I can give my family, my friends, and coworkers is far superior in quality and quantity when I cannot see or hear my phone.

As we struggle with the ever-changing demands in the different arenas of our lives, I am glad that CAALA provides forums for us to share what we are going through and what we have learned. And I hope we will extend a hand to steady one another when we see them off-balance.

Shawn McCann Shawn McCann

Shawn McCann is a partner at Banafsheh, Danesh & Javid. He graduated from Loyola Law School in 2003. Shawn handles a broad variety of cases regarding personal injury and product liability. He serves on the Board of Governors for Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles and Consumer Attorneys of California and was recently admitted into American Board of Trial Advocates. He currently serves as CAALA President.

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