The Crisis Management Lifestyle Merry-Go-Round

Many, maybe most lawyers live a crisis management lifestyle. They keep themselves going by telling themselves that “when this is over, things will get back to normal.” What they don’t see, or can’t see because of the implications, is that their normal IS a continuing crisis.

old merry go round horse

This is you on the merry-go-round of the crisis management lifestyle. Any questions?

It’s a constant merry-go-round: The looming deadline, the anxiety that you can’t meet it, the worry over how the hell you can fulfill your other obligations to your spouse/significant other, family, and yourself (you know, like eating and sleeping) and still get all that work done. And then you look at the stack of work again, and the panic cycle starts over.

Yes, THAT is the normal too many attorneys live.

What if you start seeing that constant crisis management is actually your normal? That the times you aren’t living a crisis are really just an occasional break in the action, not the mythical normal you’ve been deluding yourself about. Does that change the way you view your career, and your life?

More importantly, do you feel inspired to change something about your career or your life?

Setting Limits Can Yield Unwelcome Revelations

You may say yes, and start working on setting limits. That’s a great start. Part of what has made the legal profession so appalling to work in is attorneys’ collective unwillingness to set boundaries around work time.

In contrast, doctors have done a much better job of setting some limits. They’re far from perfect, but at least they eliminated the ridiculous 3-day resident shift from training. In fact, most of my doctors these days don’t work 5 days in the office or most weekends—and these are the people that actually save lives. Most attorneys, particularly BigLaw attorneys, at best can say . . . they saved a large corporation some money. Wow. Yet they think that the deal or suit they’re working on is so important that it trumps sleeping and eating. That’s just nutty as squirrel poo.

(Side rant: Saying that clients demand that kind of service is a cop-out. Because seriously, firm leaders, you’d sell out yourself and your team’s basic needs for sleep, food and rejuvenation for a few pieces of silver? No one can consistently do decent work, let alone stellar work, if s/he hasn’t nourished body, mind and soul a bit. Starvation victims don’t win the Olympics.)

Don’t be surprised, once you start setting some limits and get a tiny amount of time for yourself, that you start feeling . . . bored. Or restless or aimless or lazy, which are all covers for fear and boredom. Or maybe you’ll start noticing how screwed up other parts of your life are. That’s because when some of the drama of living in crisis fades, the intoxication fades. You start sobering up, and the ugly realizations can come pouring in.

Metabolize the Pain

Here’s my best advice about that: Don’t avoid the pain. Instead, metabolize it. Process it through walks, runs, bike rides, yoga, or something else physical. Express it though some form of art—make a collage, write, draw, dance, paint, act, sing. Garden or cook. Meditate. Pray. Do something loving and kind for someone else.

You’ll know you’re avoiding the pain if you watch endless amounts of television, web surf when you should be doing about anything else, drink to tipsiness or beyond, do drugs, shop or think about buying constantly, or eat far too indulgently (whatever that means for you).

What can you do today to get off the crazy crisis management lifestyle merry-go-round?

Jennifer Alvey is a recovering lawyer who coaches unhappy attorneys on getting off the crisis management lifestyle merry-go-round and into a life and career that is better. She offers discounted sample sessions so you can discover the power of coaching to help you dismount your own crazy merry-go-round. Contact Jennifer at to schedule your session today.

5 thoughts on “The Crisis Management Lifestyle Merry-Go-Round

  1. You have obviously “been there” and get it – once you are no longer working 24/7 (and thinking that you should be/want to be) a person can see things about life that bring up anger and grief (the forgotten dreams, discarded interests etc.). Painful but necessary!

    A lot of walking outdoors helped me. I started to get off of the merry-go-round due to burnout, then recession, than later knowledge that the merry-go-round made me miserable and nuts. There were times when I was still so stressed and upset with myself and my life that I couldn’t read much, but outdoor walks and bird watching were VERY helpful. If you can’t do anything else, at least move in fresh air.

  2. Alvey says:

    “Saying that clients demand that kind of service is a cop-out. Because seriously, firm leaders, you’d sell out yourself and your team’s basic needs for sleep, food and rejuvenation for a few pieces of silver?”

    Huh? They are striving for competitive profitability.

    That means that they have to provide better-er and more-er service than the next BigLaw firm. Specifically, they have to Be There for their Corporate Buddy.

    Now, they could do this by instituting shift work instead. However, the problem here is that in order to attract the Best and the Brightest, you have to pay more-er than the Other Guy.

    So, it’s really the fault of young associates. If they didn’t clamor for $160K starting out, and instead agreed to work night shift for $80K, half of this problem would be solved.

    Maybe night shift would be for those who Aren’t Going to Make The Cut.

    Or better yet, you could have Night Shift Partnership! If you are the kind of person who isn’t going to Make It for whatever reason, you could still be Part of the Team!

    Now there’s an idea whose time has come.

    All the prestige of BigLaw while still being able to get 8 hours of sleep at night. Well, not at night. During the day. But you get the point. And you would still make $80K. But you would be Partner. Isn’t that what’s important?

    • Re Corporate Buddy, I keep hearing the Jackson Five in my head, singing “I’ll be there/I’ll be theeeeeeeereeeee/Whenever you need me (and my associates)/I’ll be there…..”


      [flicking lighter and swaying]

  3. I just found that there is such a thing as a “Night Shift” attorney (at the But I Did Everything Right Blog).

    I honestly didn’t realize that they actually existed when I wrote my comment here. (work from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.)

    The salary is $29 per hour for a 4-6 week contract. They want 6+ years of document review/litigation experience.


    Here’e the link. I don’t know how to link in this comment box.

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