When I started as a barrister, over 20 years ago, I typically worked late each night and weekends. A few years into my practice, I realised I hadn’t taken a holiday in over two years. There always seemed to be something urgent to prepare for, even over the long Christmas holidays. I got to the point where I even felt guilty taking weekends off.
Fast forward 20 years and you will understand why Chief Justice Bowskill’s words resonated with me. When speaking at a Bar Association CPD seminar in 2022 on “Dealing with the Everyday”, Her Honour said:
If you find yourself working every weekend, you aren’t doing yourself any favours and can’t sustain it.
Her Honour then spoke of her own strategies for managing a busy barrister’s practice. One of her suggestions was to:
Activate the “no” button – say no if an extra brief is going to make you work on weekends.
With the benefit of hindsight, Her Honour’s words are sage advice. Weekends (and holidays) have a vital role in sustaining us over the long term.
20 years ago, when I realised I felt guilty about taking weekends off work, I decided I had to change. I focused on working hard from Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, then taking each night and weekends off as a reward for my hard work. It wasn’t straightforward and took time, but eventually I broke the cycle of endless work and started to enjoy weekends and regular holidays.
As tentative proof of my reform, I offer this 360 degree view of me on holidays walking in the Western Arthurs Mountains, Tasmania, in January 2024, from which I just returned:
I have learnt from personal experience, reinforced by advice of wiser lawyers like Bowskill CJ, that taking weekends off and regular holidays are vital for maintaining yourself over a long career.
Here are three strategies I suggest, particularly for young lawyers, for maintaining your mental health and building professional resilience:
1. Be kind to yourself: remember why you started your journey.
2. See your career as a marathon, not a sprint.
3. Recharge regularly:
- spend time with your friends, your family & doing things you love
- take weekends off (turn off the news) & holidays
These are the first three of five survival strategies I wrote of in an article on “Survival strategies for climate litigators” (2021) 27 Pandoras Box 39-51. The article was written for young lawyers and climate litigators, but I think the first three strategies are of general application for any professional. I hope they are helpful for you.
Dr Chris McGrath
24 January 2024