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How to Keep Holiday Stress From Undoing Your Entire Year

By Megan Zavieh

It’s called the most wonderful time of the year. Kicking off with Thanksgiving and running through New Year’s, the holidays are supposed to be festive and fun. Sadly, many things can kill the party: Drug and alcohol abuse, family squabbles, loneliness, work stress, financial worries and a plethora of other issues. For lawyers, end-of-year stressors can mean breaks in their processes, system overloads and even ethics breaches.

One of the biggest things we can do to balance the stresses of November through January is to acknowledge that these times have special considerations. This is not the time to try to act like shortened response times, court holidays, visiting relatives and school holidays do not faze us. We are not superhuman. Here are some tips for keeping your sanity.

One Tool to Keep the Holiday Pressure in Check

The holidays do not have to be overwhelming and stressful. Use your calendar to plan your time wisely so that you can enjoy the festivities.

Make Sure Your Calendar Is Up-to-Date

As we enter the holiday season, pull out your calendar and mark all the unusual events. Court closings or shortened hours, kids off from school, Aunt Millie visiting, deadlines for mailing before the end of the year, and anything that is not otherwise typical. Then look at your client work, and make sure their dates are all properly calculated and calendared. Court closings can really wreak havoc on your plans if your state has you calculate motion deadlines by court days ahead of the hearing day, for instance. If you hard-copy file in your practice, make sure you look at overnight mail or FedEx and UPS deadlines with the holidays in mind.

There are a few reasons utilizing the calendar is critical. For one, you are ensuring you do not miss any actual deadlines. This is “Ethics 101 for Lawyers.” Another reason is your sanity. If you have used your calendar well, you should be confident that it contains all the details you need. This should help keep you from waking in the middle of the night in a panic that you missed a deadline or that something is due tomorrow.

In addition, if you have a  team, your calendar helps them see what is coming up, which allows them to plan for themselves and plan for how to help you.

Tend to Clients

The end of the year can be stressful for clients, too. Sending holiday cards is nice, but what if you also touched base with them about their pending cases? Set aside time in your calendar to send a quick note to each active client letting them know you are thinking of them and taking care of their cases over the holidays. This will go a long way toward good client relations and help fulfill your ethical obligation to stay in touch.

Identify Time for You

Carve out some days for yourself and get them on the calendar. These can be days you take off work completely (out-of-office reply and all), or days when you calendar getting in some holiday shopping before you come to the office. Especially during the holidays, make sure you address your own needs.

Call in Reinforcements

If you look at your calendar and see the coming weeks are going to be difficult to manage on your own, look into resources to help you bear the load until the new year. This may mean outsourcing some of the legal services you provide, but it could also mean getting help to manage your personal life. Hosting an event at home? Have it catered. Need help gift shopping?  There are people who help with that! Hire a house cleaner or professional Christmas light hanger. The possibilities are endless.

If you are coping with substance abuse, make sure you have your resources in order for when you need them.

Give Yourself Props

The holidays mean the end of the year, and that means another year of law practice. Take time to celebrate your wins.  It is really easy to forget come November or December what happened back in February or March. Take stock of the good times and remind yourself of what you have accomplished this year.

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Megan Zavieh Megan Zavieh

Megan Zavieh is the creator and author of “The Playbook: The California Bar Discipline System Practice Guide.” At Zavieh Law, she focuses her practice exclusively on attorney ethics, providing representation to attorneys facing disciplinary action and guidance on questions of legal ethics. Megan is admitted to practice in California, Georgia, New York and New Jersey, as well as in multiple federal courts and the U.S. Supreme Court. Her latest book, “The Modern Lawyer: Ethics and Technology in an Evolving World,” (ABA 2021 ) covers how to run a modern practice while staying in line with current ethics rules. She podcasts on Lawyers Gone Ethical, blogs on ethics at California State Bar Defense and tweets @ZaviehLaw.

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