For all my talk about finding a healthy work life balance based on doing stuff, I’m here to report that there is a very real limit to how much you can actually do. This limit is dictated by your need to sleep.
Unfortunately, in the last month I had to learn this lesson the hard way. With work becoming increasingly busy and having taken on one too many outside projects, I was averaging about five hours a night for a full four weeks. Throughout this time, the effects of sleep deprivation slowly began to destroy my life.
To be fair, I was able to get by okay in the first week. By week two, however, coffee stopped having any meaningful effect and my ability to focus diminished greatly. Things continued in slow decline, and, toward the end of the month I had become so sensitive to sensory stimuli that I was unable to work without turning off the lights in my office and donning a pair of earplugs. This, of course, worked wonders for my reputation around the office.
Fortunately, around the time things started getting really bad, my work eased up and I was able to catch up on my sleep. That said, this period of sleep deprivation isn’t one I will soon forget…
For your information, in case you’re not familiar with my process, I take copious notes during the testimony of each witness, and I would like to place into the record my personal notes of what happened that afternoon to reflect that I was not asleep.
I want to put this in the record as a Court exhibit to indicate what I was doing that afternoon. It was not sleeping. I was not sleeping.
Not to be all on Catherine Rampell’s jock today, but the other thing I read in the Economix while I was catching up on the internet seemed far more interesting than imagining Shearman & Sterling partners bitch about how flat profits per partner left them with only $1.56 million, on average, to play around with in 2011.
On the one hand, it’s an obvious point: a study about the most “sleep-deprived” professions found lawyers to average only 7 hours of sleep a night. Only “home health aides” received less sleep.
It doesn’t come as a galloping shock to anybody that lawyers average less sleep than almost anybody else. What did surprise me was the figure. What the hell kind of lazy lawyer is getting seven entire hours of sleep every day?
Sleeping Beauty: Not on the fast track to partnership.
I’m a big believer in forcing society to make reasonable accommodations for disabled people. It’s not too much to ask that disabled people be provided with handicapped accessible taxi cabs and buildings. And a special parking spot. Or whatever. If there’s a reasonable thing that society can do to make it a little bit easier to function with a disability, we should do it.
As long as we’re dealing with a real disability.
We used to live in a world where it was pretty easy to identify a disabled person. “Hello. Hello? Oh, you must be deaf.” “Hey, why are a you miserable cuss who keeps screaming ‘hoo ha’ at me? Oh, you must be blind.” “Why did you take out a hundred thousand dollar loan to go to a school that doesn’t help people get high-paying jobs? Oh, you must be retarded.” Man, those were the days.
Sadly, we now live in a world where it’s harder and harder to separate out the really disabled people from those who just can’t get their stuff together. To cope, I’ve developed my own little test: if I wouldn’t want the disability, it’s a real disability. If I’d gladly take the “disability” in exchange for a cash payout, it’s probably fake.
So let me ask you this: would you take a cash payout from your Biglaw firm if I afflict you with the dreaded “I’m really sleepy” disability? Yeah, this woman would too….
As any law student can tell you, pulling an all-nighter sucks. Biglaw associates, however, have to pull all-nighters quite frequently — and sometimes they’ll have to get by with very little sleep, for multiple nights in a row. As one of our Above the Law editors mentioned to me, a Biglaw all-nighter “is nothing like any other kind of all-nighter [he's] ever experienced.”
So what happens when you’re on your eighth caffeinated beverage of the night and you’re still yawning? You can literally feel the small amount of blood left in your coffee stream getting ready to stage a strike if you don’t catch a few Z’s. As a young lawyer, would you even consider going to sleep? And would your firm approve?
Hell no. Don’t even think about it. You can sleep when you’re dead. But for now, you get a futuristic-looking pod to take a nap in….
My client wasn’t getting enough sleep. I assumed it was insomnia, but that didn’t fit the bill. It wasn’t that she couldn’t sleep; it was that she wouldn’t sleep. She was staying up from 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., lying in bed — mostly, playing Angry Birds.
Those few hours were the only time she was left alone all day – no one from the firm called to assign her something awful to do or yell at her for something awful she’d done. To relinquish this sliver of “me time,” even for sleep, was out of the question….
I was kidding around with some of the guys at my gym, tossing around the question – would you fight Mike Tyson for $3 million?
One of them joked – I think he heard this on Howard Stern – that he’d fellate Mike Tyson for $3 million. He could spend the first $1 million on mouthwash and retire on the rest.
Then another guy spoke up, a sometime professional heavyweight boxer. (I’m not making this up, he really has boxed, for big money, not too long ago – and has plans to do so again.)
“It’s not worth it. Mike would destroy you. There would be no retirement.”
He went on to explain what he meant. He knew from experience – this guy had been in the ring. You’d have more than bruises – you’d have concussions, brain injuries, damaged bones and joints. You’d never be the same – and it wouldn’t be worth it. You’re better off not having $3 million but appreciating the finer things, like being able to walk and talk and think.
I saw his point.
Biglaw is also not worth it, even for big money. That’s because it, too, destroys you – just like Iron Mike…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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