I distinctly remember being surprised as an associate the first time when I received a late-night response from a client. I joked about presuming that late nights were obsolete once someone went in-house. My client patiently explained that late nights were the only times the emails and calls stopped so he could catch up on reviewing documents (like the discovery responses) I sent him because his day was filled with meetings. I didn’t understand — until now.
Looking back, I cringe at how naïve I was, presuming that being a lawyer for a company was without stress. The fact is that while in-house counsel do not have the stress of billing hours and business development, we have clients (sometimes right outside our door) who expect us to be available, responsive and accurate, as we help them achieve their goals. Beyond the day-to-day legal work, some of us have to present to executives and weigh in on business-transforming decisions, sit on nonprofit boards, travel frequently, counsel clients in different time zones or overseas — while caring for kids or aging parents.
We all have stress, albeit different, and there is no value in comparison. But what we can do is share ideas on how we can all promote better mental health. Here are three ideas for those who are in-house.
Regulate Your Email
As many in-house counsel know, email can quickly become excessive in frequency or length. Do your part to avoid creating stress for others. Think before you send an email on whether it should be an email, and think before you hit reply, especially if you are going to reply all. Consider limiting your emails to work hours, using features like schedule send in Outlook. And if you work late hours like me, because that’s when kids are asleep, consider explaining that in your signature — that you work flexibly and do not expect an immediate response.
Block Your Calendar
If you want to feel more control of your time and lessen your body’s production of cortisol as you react and hammer away at issues like a “pop-the-weasel” game, then intentionally blocking your calendar is a great start. It’s a way to intentionally strike balance between ensuring clients have the ability to meet with you as needed but also having time to do substantive work during the workday so it doesn’t bleed into your nights and weekends. If you’re a morning person, considering blocking off the first hour or two for deep focus work and leave the rest open for meetings. Importantly, block off time for lunch and a few breaks where you step away from your desk and go for a walk. For example, when I work from home, I’ll set a timer for 10 minutes to pick up around the house to some upbeat music or wash baby bottles while listening to Audible or get on the Peloton. The endorphins from movement or from creating some order in the house is a great pick-me-up.
Normalize Rest And Play
We all know that person who immediately barrages us with how much they’ve worked over the holiday or on the weekend and their ever-flowing to-do list after we ask them how they’re doing. Admittedly, I have been that person — who wore their workaholism as a badge of honor. But no more. Instead, consider reserving your weekends to rest and recharge. Start with at least reserving one full day. Take your vacation and talk about your time off. Normalize taking breaks, doing something just for fun or doing nothing at all, and talk about it. Because sharing it, especially if you are a leader in your organization, will give others permission to do the same.
Meyling “Mey” Ly Ortiz is in-house at Toyota Motor North America. Her passions include mentoring, championing belonging, and a personal blog: TheMeybe.com. At home, you can find her doing her best to be a “fun” mom to a toddler and preschooler and chasing her best self on her Peloton. You can follow her on LinkedIn (https://www.linkedin.com/in/meybe/). And you knew this was coming: her opinions are hers alone.