The recent Lawyers Weekly poll on lawyers’ work-life balance received an overwhelmingly negative response, but it is possible to have a successful career in the law and a fulfilling personal life, according to Sydney law firm partner Cain Sarah.
When it comes time for me to leave this earth, I am not going to be someone who wishes he spent less time at work and more time with his family. Apparently for most dying old men, this is their one big regret.
I am a 38-year-old lawyer at Eakin McCaffery Cox in Sydney’s CBD. I juggle my career, raising three young boys (Charlie (6), Archie (3) and Billy (1)) with my wife Matilda, and an active sporting life. I moved to Sydney from Geelong in 1999 and was fortunate to land a job at Eakins, a firm that recognises that a good work-life balance is vital to the general wellbeing and happiness of its staff.
I appreciate this flexibility is not always easy to achieve in the competitive legal industry, but it’s perfectly doable by applying one guiding principle: when you’re at work, work. And it’s the way of the future.I have an extremely busy property law practice with some litigation sprinkled in between. I have a solid list of loyal clients who have remained with me for well over a decade. And I get home every night no later than 5:30pm, because that’s family time I will never get back. Seeing my kids every day and being involved in their lives is a priority and not something I will sacrifice. I honestly believe I have managed to commit to my family without adversely affecting my career or my personal goals.
I recently became an equity partner at Eakins and over the Easter weekend I won a gold medal in the triple jump, and silver medals in the long and high jump, at the Australian Masters Games in Canberra, proudly cheered on by Matilda, Charlie, Archie and Billy.
I was only able to achieve the athletics goal by following the advice of the great Australian miler Herb Elliott, who believed the key to his success on the track was not the duration or frequency of his training, but the intensity. I believe the same theory applies to one’s career. You know in your heart of hearts that if you really knuckle down you can do 10 hours work in eight hours. And that is the key that unlocks the rest of my life.
I won’t lie, our life is busy. Matilda works in market research two-plus days per week, and on those days I arrive at work at 6am and leave at four-ish to pick up Charlie from school and then Archie and Billy from childcare. From there we usually truck off to footy training or the park, then head home amidst screams of "Can I have a slurpee?" and "Daddy, Charlie's punching me" to feed and bathe the boys by the time Matilda walks in the door. Well, that’s the plan anyway. Sometimes this is more successfully achieved than others, with the local Italian and Japanese restaurants coming in particularly handy at dinnertime.
And for the record, I’m no martyr here. I appreciate that I am just doing two days a week what most working mums traditionally do every single day of their lives.
After the boys go to bed Matilda and I eat, catch up on the day, watch some TV and I usually log on to my computer and respond to any e-mails or work that needs to be addressed. I try not to work weekends and generally succeed, except for the odd hour or two here or there.
I am a competitive person by nature, and I relish the outlet of competitive sport. People have asked me when I train given my career and family life. To me, training is a non-negotiable, you can always find time. I resist the urge to be a night owl; I go to bed reasonably early (10pm-ish) so then training at 5am or earlier is achievable, or I run at lunchtime.
Fitness and sport form a big part of my life, not only for personal reasons but also so I can be the best possible role model for my boys. My father was a very fit athlete and criminal barrister who I always aspired to be. Similarly, I want to be someone my kids are proud of and look up to.
I believe a healthy body means a healthy mind, with the result being better quality work. I see exercise as an investment. It enables me to achieve more, think more clearly and make better decisions in less time. It puts me in a good mood.
I would go so far as to say that people who exercise tend to be more organised, productive and efficient. They move faster, think quicker and are generally more positive people.
To me, being a good father and husband is my number-one priority, but I firmly believe you can also be a successful lawyer and active sportsperson if you are organised, unselfish and motivated.
About the only thing that comes to us without effort is old age.
Cain Sarah is a commercial property and litigation partner with Eakin McCaffery Cox.
Pictured: Cain Sarah with his children Charlie (6), Archie (3) and Billy (1)