Planning: The bain of the young attorney

My desk is overflowing with papers, highlighters, and folders. It's late -- maybe one o'clock in the morning - and a single lamp lights my desk. My apartment is silent as my fiancé is out of town on a work trip. I stare out my large window at the snowflakes softly falling down, a sight that would be incredibly peaceful if I wasn't racked by stress and anxiety - it's year-end, a particularly time consuming and stressful time for most transactional attorneys, myself included.

I lean back in my chair and take a quick survey of the room, looking for some kind of brief respite from reviewing the financial statements I've been pouring over for hours. Instead, my eye catches the calendar that hangs on my wall, and one date in particular stands out. In less than 12 hours' time, I am scheduled to endure a task that makes pouring over the tax code seem downright enjoyable - a wedding planning phone conference with our out-of-state wedding planner and my fiancé.

The thought sends a shiver down my spine. This will not be just a simple "touch base," but a full-blown, no-holds-barred planning meeting (our planner is zealous in her efforts to stay on our "official" wedding timeline). Never mind that I am knee-deep in work, the show must go on.

I dig up an email from my fiancé that lays out the agenda for the call. It's worse than I could have imagined. Among the hot topics for discussion are: picking the colors to be used for the "Save the Date" borders and text (I'm colorblind); deciding between chrysanthemums and succulents for the tables (I don't know what either of those things are, but context clues lead me to believe they are a type of flower); deciding what table gifts to give to our guests (I thought they gave us presents?); and finalizing the cake flavors (I guess I can get on board with that one). Worst of all, the email informs me that I am required to have opinions ready to go prior to the 9 a.m. call. Great. My fiancé is out of town on a business trip, so I can't even prod her into giving me the right answers.

It's not that I don't want to have a memorable wedding. I do. It's not that I don't love my fiancé and want her to be happy. I do. The problem is that despite my skill in planning mergers and acquisitions, advising on shareholder disputes, and assisting clients in choosing appropriate directors, tastes, colors, and planning in the marital sector just isn't my forte. Worse yet, despite my obvious deficiencies in making decisions on these matters, my fiancé still (for some reason) actually wants my input.

Despite my reservations and hang-ups, I vow to get up early the next morning so that I can collect my thoughts and prepare for the call, as being unprepared would upset both the planner and my fiancé, and I'm not sure which scares me more. The next morning I look through the wedding templates and samples that have been sent my way over the course of the last few weeks. I am blown away. It all looks fantastic - classy, polished, immensely creative. I couldn't believe the amount of work, both by the planner and my fiancé, that must have gone into putting all this together. And the most unbelievable part? I actually enjoyed looking through it all, thinking about what colors would look best and what invitations would complement our wedding theme, if for no other reason than I knew it mattered a great deal to my fiancé.

I approached the call with a new sense of interest to the whole process, and my fiancé seemed to genuinely appreciate it. I offered suggestions and confidently proclaimed my opinions. Sure, my ideas were summarily dismissed by the two of them (remember, I'm colorblind and ignorant about flowers), but it didn't matter - what mattered was that I showed up and that I was mindful to the task, something that I had often in the past neglected to do when I got this consumed by work.

For a couple hours I was able to forget about all the stress and pressure I was feeling at work. I was able to think about and contribute to something bigger than myself and my relatively trivial worries. By stepping out of my comfort zone, I was able to enjoy something I would have never imagined could be enjoyable. Further, and more significantly, I realized the importance of not neglecting the important people and things in my life, no matter how busy or chaotic my life became.

In the big picture, giving up three hours from my day wasn't a huge sacrifice. It did, however, mean a lot to my fiancé, and it showed me the importance of being able to put my work away, both physically and psychologically, for a few minutes. That short break allowed me to come back to my work with an invigorated focus and a renewed spirit. Lawyers often find themselves overwhelmed by their work, but the importance of taking a breather, putting down the work, and doing something to show you appreciate those in your life that have made sacrifices to support you cannot be overstated.

As lawyers we fight and advocate for freedom on a daily basis. However, as David Foster Wallace, American novelist and essayist, once noted, "the really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day."

A lesson well learned, and much appreciated.


Patrick Berry, is a 2014 graduate of the University of Wisconsin School of law, where he graduated number one in his class. Now an associate at Boardman @ Clark, Patrick is a transactional lawyer and counselor, advising companies on all aspects of operations, mergers and acquisitions, while navigating the maze leading to his upcoming marriage.

©2016 Today's Guest Columnist

Published: Fri, Feb 05, 2016