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Women and the LawThe newsletter of the ISBA’s Standing Committee on Women and the Law

October 2010, vol. 16, no. 2

Attorneys: Get on your hobby horse!

These days, it seems that to be a lawyer means lots of extracurricular activities: CLEs, networking, speeches, and article writing. However, those activities tend more toward improving your career rather than improving yourself. It seems to me that as they settle into their careers, attorneys lose sight of doing activities just for fun, relaxation, and self-improvement.

The good thing is, there is a simple solution: get a hobby. Or three.

Allow me to explain why I am concerned about the profession in the first place. Having interviewed at my share of firms in the past few years, I learned to pick up hints about the poor quality of life—and lack of hobbies—for attorneys at many firms. Some hints are not so subtle: for example, the stray sleeping bag shoved unceremoniously behind a file cabinet. However, more subtly, many attorneys wistfully spoke of hobbies and free time in the past tense—e.g., “I used to enjoy gardening...”—without realizing how that statement reflected on life at that firm.

It’s easy to blame the nature of the profession here, as well as an economy that makes new attorneys feel as if they’ve got to accept any 2,000-billable-hour job that will help them pay off ever-mounting student loans. Still, some of the blame has to go to ourselves. Yes, being an attorney is very time-intensive, but there are two fingers pointing at us on this score. Number one, associates teach their bosses how to treat them. And number two, we can always put our time to better use, and even find time to squeeze in a personal hobby or two. Any hobby you enjoy is always worth the time.

I graduated in the spring of 2009—the class they called “the lost ones”—and I have recently begun work as a judicial law clerk in the Circuit Court of Cook County. I realize I’m lucky and that many attorneys don’t get jobs that allow them to fully nurture a laundry list of hobbies, which for me includes knitting, crochet, baking, cooking, flute, exercise, my bunny, crossword puzzles, and scrapbooking. Still, these activities help me feel like me.

The benefits of having at least one hobby are huge, especially to attorneys, whose stress levels, happiness, and health are often cited as some of the worst of any profession. Fortunately, hobbies can help attorneys on each of these issues.

First, many hobbies can help attorneys get (or stay) physically fit. Cycling on Lake Shore Drive on Sunday - even if it’s to come into the office to finish a brief - gets you outside and enjoying the sun. I just picked up a great book, “60 Hikes Within 60 Miles of Chicago,” which provides some great opportunities to get walking in green areas near our fair city. Even bread-making, which I engage in frequently, will help you attain those Michelle Obama arms. Plus, as an added bonus, all those physical activities help cut down on stress, too.

Even non-physical hobbies can greatly help with stress levels and mental acuity. For example, I teach knitting and crochet classes, and most of my students find the repetitive motions in both of those crafts to be very relaxing—and you can do them while watching TV! Other hobbies can actually increase your focus and reasoning, such as logic puzzles and crossword puzzles. Even if you lost at court, completing the RedEye crossword puzzle on the ride home on the CTA or Metra can be a gratifying way to end the day.

Yet another reason hobbies are so great is that they allow you to meet people—sometimes people who are not attorneys! Sharing interests is a great way to feel connected to the community and your neighborhood. Exercise classes and having a dog to walk are good examples, because they usually force you to be social. Also, Meetup.com is a great place to search for groups related to all sorts of hobbies—from Mahjong to language clubs. Even if you’re just a beginner, people are always willing to help you learn.

Possibly most importantly for attorneys, hobbies allow you to mentally switch off for a bit. Lawyers are constantly bombarded with information, and we are infamous for taking our work home with us, even if it’s only mentally. Getting home and knitting while you decompress with “Lost” can be amazingly therapeutic. I hosted “stitch ‘n’ bitch” knitting sessions during law school for this reason. The same goes with exercise, where you can blast ‘80s power ballads and mindlessly burn calories simultaneously. Attorneys often need help to “unplug,” and hobbies can be an immense help.

Finally, hobbies are especially important for women attorneys for several reasons. The first reason is that women in general tend to have lower self-esteem and confidence than men. Hobbies can help you grow in that area, especially as you are able to showcase your talents and graduate to more complicated levels of your hobby. The second is that women in particular have trouble leaving their work stress at work. As I’ve already said, hobbies help women mentally “switch off” and relax at home.

I think I’ve set forth a pretty convincing case for adding a hobby to your life, even if you are very busy, and I hope you find one that you can integrate into your life and enjoy. And that’s really what’s so great about hobbies. Even though many of them are practical, the whole point of a hobby is to relax, improve yourself in some way, and engage in self-expression just for the sake of it.

And if you ever want to have a “stitch ‘n’ bitch,” give me a call. ■

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Valerie Sherman is a judicial law clerk for Hon. Patrick J. Rogers in the Circuit Court of Cook County in Chicago. She is an active member of the ISBA Young Lawyers Division and the CBA Young Lawyers Section and has worked in the areas of probate law and administrative review law. Ms. Sherman can be reached at vsherman@cookcountygov.com.


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