Justice Bridget Mary McCormack joined the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2013. Before her election to the Court in...
Robert Mathis is the pro bono service counsel for the State Bar of Michigan. Mathis’s past experience also includes...
Does work-life balance exist in the day-to-day lives of lawyers? Maybe not, and that’s okay. From the NEXT Conference 2018, host Rob Mathis gets Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack’s take on how lawyers can balance their careers and personal lives in a healthy way. Justice McCormack encourages lawyers to look at their career as a whole and not be too hard on themselves when some days, months, or even years tilt further one way than the other.
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack joined the Michigan Supreme Court in January 2013. Her wide-ranging years of perspective have given her great insight into the work-life balance lawyers need.
State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast
State Bar of Michigan NEXT Conference 2018 Balancing Career and Life
Intro: Welcome to State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast, where we talk about practice management and lawyer wellness for a thriving law practice with your hosts JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent, here on Legal Talk Network.
Take it away, ladies.
Rob Mathis: Hello and welcome to another edition of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network. I am Rob Mathis, from the State Bar of Michigan, sitting in today for your regular hosts, JoAnn Hathaway and Tish Vincent.
We are live from the State Bar of Michigan’s NEXT Conference 2018 in Grand Rapids, and joining me today I have Justice Bridget Mary McCormack, welcome to the show.
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Thanks for having me, I am happy to be here.
Rob Mathis: Before we get started, please tell me a little bit about yourself.
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Yeah, you bet. I am one of the seven justices on the Michigan Supreme Court. I started serving on the court January of 2013, so I’ve been here almost six years. Before that I was a full-time member of the University of Michigan Law School faculty, before that I was on the Yale Law School faculty but I started my career in New York City as a public defender. I started representing people accused of crimes in New York City.
So, I’ve been doing lots of different kinds of jobs for the last 20ish years, and had a very lucky legal career.
Rob Mathis: It sounds like you’ve been very busy?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Yeah, busy is good though, right, better than being not busy, I think.
Rob Mathis: That is true.
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Yeah.
Rob Mathis: So how have you managed your work-life balance?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: This is such an important question and a great question and I get it in lots of contexts, and I think women get it more than men, but I think it’s just as important for men, but I’m happy to have the chance to talk about it.
So, my first answer, I hope doesn’t disappoint I’ll say more is there’s no such thing. And I mean by that that if you focus too much on trying to have your work and the rest of your life in the perfect balance at all times, you will be constantly disappointed and you will be hard on yourself.
And so, my first piece of advice to young lawyers who I spend a lot of time with and certainly spend a lot of time with as a teacher, I continue to teach at the University of Michigan is, don’t be so hard on yourself when things are not in balance from day to day, from week to week, and sometimes even from year to year.
So, I always tell young lawyers that over the course of my career I think I’ve gotten that balance close to right, but there were periods in my career where I was spending a lot more time at work than I was on kids and other things that are important to me in life, family, and then there were other times in my professional life where I was spending a lot more time with kids.
My oldest son was diagnosed with epilepsy when he was 10 and spent a lot of time in and out of a hospital for a period of a couple years and a lot of time, a lot of time in doctor’s visits and some hospital stays, and I was more his mom than any other professional role I was playing right then which were a few. I was a faculty member and the Associate Dean at the law school, University of Michigan Law School and I was more focused on my kid in those years and I relied on my excellent colleagues to cover the bases. Hopefully then when they needed it I was able to cover for them.
So, my first message, my top-line message on this whole topic is, don’t expect it over the course of a week or a month or even a year, think about it over the course of your career and figure out how to get it right.
Rob Mathis: So, as you stated you are a — one of the Michigan’s justices on the Michigan Supreme Court, what are some special pressures that you have as a justice?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: So, I think, I’m not sure that the pressures that I face are any more significant than the pressures that any lawyer faces. In fact, in some ways I have the luxury of lots of time to make the decisions that I get to make. I don’t bill by the hour so I don’t have clients telling me to hurry up or move faster or do more, and I, in some ways think I have quite a bit of luxury in how I can figure out how to get my work done, where to get it done, when to get it done.
Having said that there’s always more work to do than hours in a day or more work that I’m interested in doing than our hours in a day. There’s always more I can read for the cases we’re working on, there’s always more work to be done on the administrative projects that the court takes responsibility for that I think are critically important to how the court serves the public.
There’s always groups out in the public who want to hear from me and if I had more hours in my week I would spend more time with more people talking about what we’re doing and why the court matters, because I think that’s critical.
But I don’t think those pressures really are worse than or different than in any significant way the pressures that brand-new lawyers face, partners at private firms face, lawyers who are legal services lawyers, who are working always more hours than they’re paid for to try and save somebody’s housing or their public benefits or — so in this profession everybody has to figure out how to do the job that they are supposed to be doing as well as they can and take care of themselves so that they show up every day with their best self.
Rob Mathis: So, what are some techniques that you use to handle stress?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: I think everybody has different things that work for them. I’ll tell you mine, but if they’re not right for you, find yours, whatever it is that brings you some peace, some focus whatever that is do that.
For me, I do a lot of physical fitness because running, biking, hot yoga — I love hot yoga — all of those sweating and endorphins make a difference in how my day goes. So, if I have not found the minutes in a day to do that, it’s never as good a day. So almost every day I do something, and sometimes a lot of it. This coming Sunday I’m doing a Century Ride, so I’m going to do a 100-mile ride here in Southwest Michigan, and that helps me a lot.
I will say that I thought that was enough but for my birthday last summer, my children who are all teenagers, young adults bought me a subscription to a meditation service. So they apparently didn’t think that my fitness routine was enough and they encouraged me to start meditation which I’ve actually enjoyed. I do the shortest one they give me, I do the three minutes a day, but I find that it actually really does help me with focus and calming the mind, and so I encourage others who might have thought that was not worth their time to give it a shot.
I don’t think I would have done it if it weren’t for my own kids saying, hey mom, we think this might help you; but that’s been quite helpful to me as well.
Rob Mathis: So, you said you have a hundred-mile bike ride coming up?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Yeah, Sunday.
Rob Mathis: Are you a long distance runner or —
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: I’m a terrible runner and almost never a long-distance runner, I’ve never been very good at running. I love swimming, I could swim for — you can tell me right now I have to go swim three miles and I could do it, no trouble, and I can bike for long distances, not fast, I’m not a — I still like ride the brakes on hills. I’m not a daredevil and I’m a plotter, but I will get the Century Ride done. It probably will take me seven hours, but I’ll get it done.
Rob Mathis: It sounds like a triathlete?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: I have done mini triathlons. I’ve never done a full IRONMAN but I’ve done the Sprint version many times and there are some great courses in Michigan and I love that race, that’s my favorite race, because the swimming is my strongest leg, and so I like the triathlon, it’s a great race.
Rob Mathis: The Michigan water is so cold.
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Well, it’s cold in the winter, it’s great in the summer, it’s perfect in the summer. Perfect, yeah.
Rob Mathis: So, if you had some advice particularly to women lawyers what would that advice be for handling profession, stress?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Yeah, I think the best piece of advice I have for young lawyers is making sure they find a way — and this isn’t possible for everybody in your first job, maybe not your second job — but find a way to get to the job that you really want to be doing and it’s out there. If you went to law school unless you really don’t want to be a lawyer, then go find that, but that’s fine too.
But within the law there are lots of different ways to do it, and just because most people take one track doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the best track for you, and if it’s not the best track for you, get off it pretty soon and find your way to the best track for you, because if you love what it is you spend your hours doing at work, you’ll have an easier time making all of the rest of it balance. I really think that’s right.
Rob Mathis: So, is there anything else you would like to add regarding work-life balance or being a lawyer in Michigan?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: The only other thing I would say is, I do believe that more and more places of work, whether they’re public sector, private sector, are taking seriously the idea that when their employees have a good balance that allows them to take care of their family, take care of themselves, they probably work better.
And so, I guess, I feel optimistic that we are as a profession for the next generation going to do better on how to accommodate people who have families or people who have hobbies or people who have other things they want to do because we will see and we have seen that it will make them actually better lawyers, healthier lawyers and that’s win, win, win, win, win, a lot of wins.
Rob Mathis: Lot of wins.
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: It’s a lot of wins.
Rob Mathis: Yeah. So earlier you said there really isn’t a work-life balance but if someone was trying to figure out, and I know you said it’s over the course, maybe the course of your career, but if someone is a new — a young lawyer, maybe just starting out, how do they try to figure out what is a good work-life balance?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: Yeah, I think that’s a very hard question to answer in the aggregate, it’s so individualized because — and this is what I would — this would be my advice to somebody starting out is whatever it is, for you right now might not be what it is for you next year and it might not be what it is for you in five years, and that’s okay. You can have a year, I had many of them where things were tilted a little more towards work than towards life. And then you will probably have another year where things might have to be tilted a little more towards life than towards work.
Keep your eye on the big picture, it’s a long career. It’s okay, if some your another tips in one direction or the other. Give yourself a break.
Rob Mathis: All right. Well, before we close out this podcast I have one last question. If listeners would like to follow up with you how can they contact you, what’s your contact information?
Justice Bridget Mary McCormack: They can find me on Facebook, Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. They can find me on Twitter @BridgetMaryMc. They can find me on Instagram, Justice Bridget Mary McCormack. So, those are three good places to find me if they want to.
Rob Mathis: Awesome. Well, that’s all the time we have for this program. Thank you Justice Bridget Mary McCormack for joining us today.
I also want to thank our listeners for tuning in. If you like what you heard today, please rate us in Apple Podcasts.
I am Rob Mathis from the State Bar of Michigan. We will see you next time for another episode of the State Bar of Michigan’s On Balance Podcast on Legal Talk Network.
Outro: Thank you for listening to the State Bar of Michigan: On Balance Podcast, brought to you by the State Bar of Michigan and produced by the broadcast professionals at Legal Talk Network.
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The views expressed by the participants of this program are their own and do not represent the views of, nor are they endorsed by Legal Talk Network or the State Bar of Michigan or their respective officers, directors, employees, agents, representatives, shareholders, and subsidiaries. None of the content should be considered legal advice. As always, consult a lawyer.
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