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Bar News - August 15, 2008

President's Perspective
Summertime: ďDown TimeĒ for Attorneys?


Ellen L. Arnold

Itís summertime. Living in New Hampshire, particularly in the North Country, it seems like we wait forever for summer to arrive, only for it to vanish too quickly. Memories of summers as a kid, with school over, and with days of swimming, bike-riding or summer camp ahead, are like a dream. In our demanding profession and with personal obligations, let alone the desire to take care of ourselves and have a good time, how do we live the adult version of that dream? Can we really achieve work/life balance and what does that mean?

In thinking about this question, I reflected on my own experience trying to balance my personal and professional life. At one end of the spectrum lies the 10 years I spent living in the country, raising my children. I put the practice of law on hold and threw myself into family and country life. I lived in an old farmhouse with a beautiful barn, so it didnít take long before I began raising animals. It also wasnít long before I was recruited into local politics and governance, where I served on the local conservation commission and planning board.

As many of you know, staying at home is hard work. Once my children were in school and I returned to the practice of law, I devoted most of my time and energy to re-building a career. As with most things, the pendulum swings. As my schedule of evening hearings, trial practice, and part-time judging grew, so did the challenge of managing professional and personal endeavors. This challenge is one that we face whether working at home, working at the practice of law, or both.

As I became involved in Bar-related activities, then-Bar president Richard Uchida, asked me to participate in a Work/Life Task Force (co-chaired with Richard McNamara) which he appointed to create guidelines that recognize the essential interrelationship between success in practice, professional satisfaction, and personal well-being. Significantly, the guidelines stress the personal nature of setting priorities and acknowledge that at certain points in our lives, some things are more important than others. As a result, individual choices about the commitment to professional and personal pursuits change over time. (Read the Work Life Task Force Canons.)

Frequently, young associates and law students ask me what path to follow and they express concern about not being on the right track or about taking time off from what they perceive as the expected track. Those questions and the balancing act that follows are inevitably linked to the work we do. My experience is that there is no "right" track except the constantly changing one that works for you at the time.

My non-legal experiences significantly enhanced my practice. I have the personal joy of hearing my adult son recall the afternoons we played with Tonka trucks in the dirt and my daughter remembering the vests we made for her class outing to Odiorne Point. Working with farmers and the local community taught me more about people than I could ever have learned otherwise. And my time on local boards ultimately shaped my practice. Similarly, the hard work and effort Iíve devoted to work and the wonderful mentoring relationships and lessons learned in my professional life have provided tremendous success and satisfaction. All of the unlikely pieces ultimately fit together, even though they may not all have fit together at the same time.

As the precious weeks of summer fly by, I hope that you have the opportunity to enjoy it and find the time and places to balance the demands of our profession with family, personal well-being, and new experiences.

Now Iím off on vacation!

Ellen L. Arnold, associate general counsel of Dartmouth College, is NHBA President for 2008-2009.

If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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