Balance for Lawyers

Small Group Study / Produced by TOW Project

This lesson is part of Issues Christian Lawyers Face, a study guide produced by The Theology of Work Project in partnership with Steven Moe, for the New Zealand Christian Lawyers national conference in May 2017. Click the Table of Contents on the right of this page to see the entire curriculum.


Many lawyers struggle with having a good work and life balance. Clients can be demanding and there can be strict deadlines that need to be met, which are usually urgent. Often this means that long hours are required to prepare and best serve the client. As well as that, a lawyer is often judged by the number of billable hours they record during a year, so there can be pressure to work longer and harder in order to succeed and progress their career.

Case Study

Sally has been working as a corporate lawyer for a large law firm for four years. An overseas client is flying in tomorrow to continue the negotiation of the sale and purchase of a business they are buying. Before they got on their flight to come, they sent a one-line email that asked for a revised version of the agreement to be prepared and be ready for the meeting at 10am tomorrow, before they go to meet with the other side at 11am. Her partner joked that she was surprised they had been given that much time. Sally has been working on the revised agreement since she got into the office that morning and skipped lunch in order to keep progressing the review. It is now 7:45pm and she realises there are still another 45 pages to be amended. She reluctantly calls a friend that she was due to meet that night and cancels dinner, as she glances out the window at the sky and the clouds which are lit up by the sunset. She hangs up and slowly turns back to her computer screen.

Questions for discussion:

  • What can you relate to in the case study in your context, and why?
  • How do you cope with the demands of strict deadlines and time pressures?
  • How do you strike a balance between the desire to be good at your job as a lawyer with other competing demands?
  • How does a job as a lawyer impact on other roles and responsibilities – such as with family, church, sports teams and other roles in the community?

Biblical reflection

On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
(Genesis 2:2-3)

Everything that God creates is “good,” but rest is the first thing in the Bible that God calls “holy.” God rests on the seventh day, and he asks people to rest too. This commandment is repeated throughout scripture, from Exodus 20:8-11 to Nehemiah 13:18 to Hebrews 4:1. In fact, the injunction against constant work has to be repeated over and over again, probably because it is just so hard to keep. In a world that includes sin and its consequences, work demands a lot of time and effort. God explained this sad reality to Adam when he said, “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken” (Genesis 3:19).

And yet, God hopes to restore rest for all people. Jesus makes the unequivocal claim that he can give people deep rest:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gently and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
(Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus provides people with spiritual rest, paradoxically, by freeing them from the commandment to stop working. Jesus himself breaks the Sabbath at will, and he absorbs any guilt that you might feel from doing likewise. As St. Paul explains, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

This means you have freedom to choose when and how to rest, knowing you can always connect to God’s through Jesus. This doesn’t mean work always wins or that family, church, and sleep aren’t important. It just means that you have the freedom to choose which obligation you want to attend to at any moment.

This may or may not help you solve real life dilemmas of work-life balance. Those have always existed. The noble women in Proverbs 31, after all, woke up early and went to bed late (Proverbs 31:15, Proverbs 31:18). She juggled competing demands of family, commerce, and religion. Even so, she managed to be called “happy” (Proverbs 31:28). So perhaps there is hope for us all.

Discuss: What are the key principles from this study that could be applied in your situation?

For more on balance, read the Theology of Work Project long form article Balancing Rhythms of Rest and Work. Or watch the video of Tod Bolsinger on balancing work and family.