As I See It: The Lockbox


by Tamara Garwood

We all have done it.  It’s 2:00 a.m. and you sit up in bed and think, “Oh my gosh, did I miss the deadline to file my witness list?” or “Gosh, did I cite the correct legal authority to the judge during my hearing yesterday?”  Okay, we can be honest:  you probably don’t say “gosh”. Nonetheless, you likely have had the thoughts or nightmares.  If not, I commend you on your ability to leave work at work, but for the others, I suggest that you invest in a lockbox.

I have been trying to do this for years.  Sometimes I am more successful than others.  Either way, I always think back to my father.  My father is a lawyer in Wisconsin in a town about the size of Ann Arbor.  His father was also a lawyer in that same town.  I remember, as a child, my father would often bring home a briefcase full of work, but was always tight-lipped about what he had done each day and what he was working on at home.  He would come home from work and we would have dinner together as a family.  My mother would ask him how his day was and he would always say “fine” – no more, no less, just "fine”.  He and my mother would then put each of us on the witness stand and carefully question us about our day.  We were not asked yes or no questions, forcing us to share as much detail as possible.
In law school, I did an internship for the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in the Child and Family Abuse Bureau.  It was an incredible place to work.  The cases were beyond horrendous, but the people in the office were exceptional.  One night, after working on an extraordinarily gruesome case all day, I called my father.  I remembered back to my childhood and how he never seemed to let his work issues encroach on his time with our family.   I asked him how he did this.  He acknowledged that cases often are on his mind, but he resolved to not let them interfere with his life outside of work.  He told me that he uses a lockbox in his mind.  It seemed ridiculous at the time, but the following day on my way home, I tried it.  It actually worked!

Many years later, as I drive home each night I go through my day and actually visualize putting my files into my lockbox.  Sometimes my lockbox re-opens, but I go back and visualize again putting the files away. 

A former boss once told me that while her mind and body were at work each day, her heart and her soul were always with her family.  I think this wise statement helps me keep my work in perspective and reinforces how important it is to use my lockbox each night.  If I am going to keep my heart and soul with my family, I am going to keep my clients and work in their lockbox. 

Tamara Garwood practices in the area of family law and is also a mediator in domestic relations matters.  A past Washtenaw County Bar Association Director at Large and chairperson of the WCBA’s Friend of the Court Committee, she is a member of the State Bar of Michigan’s Family Law Section and Women Lawyers Association of Michigan.  Ms. Garwood is an author of a chapter in ICLE’s Michigan Family Law.