Work-Life Balance

'Get a Life' Attendees Focus on Efficiency—and Smelling the Roses

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Mary Schmitt Smith stopped to smell a rose at a lawyer conference in Chicago on Wednesday—and that was part of the point.

“It’s a serious attempt at having fun,” the suburban Detroit attorney said of the Get a Life conference, aimed at offering attorneys tools for better work-life balance. “There’s an emphasis on nonlegal activities. It’s very creative.”

The Get a Life agenda at times aims to promote practice-building without the soul-crushing, as reflected in the titles of these two presentations by law firm marketer Stephen Fairley: “The Five Immutable Secrets to Building a Seven-Figure Law Practice While Staying Sane” and “Technology-Enabled Services to Improve Your Life.”

Though the sessions also focused on practical matters from marketing to effective blogging to billing, the scene wasn’t exactly typical for a law conference. There were also free massages, a cart of roses ready for sniffing and the chance to unwind with a Wii video game system. As two attendees spoke in a conference room, a massage therapist walked up and told one, “I can work on you right here.”

The two-day conference, which drew about 250 attendees, mostly from small firms or solo practice—as well as another 250 watching the conference live online—was the inaugural work-life balance event hosted by an offshoot of Total Attorneys, a Chicago company that helps small law firms deal with administrative and other needs.

The legal industry is particularly ripe for such an event, some attendees said.

“A lot of people have been pushed out of larger firms …and there’s been a recent push toward work-life balance,” said Namit Bammi, who practices corporate and real estate law at a two-person firm in Chicago. “I think there’s a thirst for it. I think a lot of lawyers are … re-evaluating what they want to do.”

Chicago attorney Anthony Sciara was at the conference for the lessons it offered in efficiency. “I intend to use some of this to be even busier,” he said.

But that isn’t necessarily at odds with the goals of the conference: Having balance doesn’t have to mean working less, said Kevin Chern, president of Total Attorneys.

“There don’t have to be strict lines,” Chern said. “It’s about working smarter.”

In their own office, which has about 200 employees, Chern and founder Ed Scanlan focus on work as an “enabler” for living life, on the theory that happy people are more productive.

“They give back 30 times,” Scanlan said. “If you’re burned out, you’re not providing the highest quality of service you can.”

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