When Life Gets in the Way

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My wife recently slipped on the ice outside our home and fractured a bone in her elbow, which required surgery. We are advised it was a success, though she will need to be in a cast for eight to ten weeks, disrupting our household in many ways. I have advised clients, co-workers and adversaries of her injury and all of them have expressed sympathies and replied that I should understand my priorities and take care of her. While I have been comforted by their words of kindness and have attempted to follow their advice, there are only so many hours in a day. My practice of law still goes on with litigation deadlines, client expectations, settlement negotiations, and pending travel plans for work that have created additional stress and anxiety. So far, I have been able to balance all these demands and, when appropriate, obtained help from other lawyers within the firm or extensions of time as warranted from adversaries.

My wife will heal and we will both get back to our normal routines. The distractions her injury has caused, however, made me think of numerous times over the years when my professional liability clients have explained an errors and omission claim by attributing it to personal events, whether it was a personal illness or the illness of a family member. I am not a psychologist, but when faced with a loved one’s pain, I know we want to do all we can to help. The time commitments and stress affects the caregiver’s ability to perform as well.

It is difficult for a professional to turn down a business assignment during such times, with the potential adverse effect on their livelihood by letting someone else step in. The loss of income on the assignment and future assignments is a valid concern, but the potential for an error or missed deadline can be much more devastating. These are all factors in determining whether personal circumstances are interfering with an immediate professional responsibility. If so, it’s time to ask for help.

Life is a difficult balance. We must all make our determinations and be aware that the ability to fulfill obligations we take on in our professional lives can be diminished by our own or a loved one’s ill health.

I can only urge you to recognize that these things happen and have a plan in place for backup, whether within your own company or firm or from someone in your profession whom you can trust to cover for you, and who can trust you to cover for them in the event of need. Even when we do not suffer the disabling injury ourselves, we must recognize when to seek help to avoid serious professional consequences.

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