Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 14, June 2001

Issue 14, June 2001

  • How to Work From Home Without Turning Home Into Work

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

Issue # 14
How to Work From Home Without Turning Home Into Work



1. "The Unfinished Agenda"
2. A Word About Coaching
3. "How to Work From Home Without Turning Home Into Work"



Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor
Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life



Most attorneys -- especially women -- live impossibly busy lives. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.

Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.

This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.


1. "The Unfinished Agenda"

If you haven't already seen it, I'd strongly recommend that you read the ABA Commission on Women in the Profession's "The Unfinished Agenda: Women and the Legal Profession."

You can find it at

The Commission on Women's report identifies obstacles to women's full participation in the legal profession and provides suggestions for resolving them.

If you have reactions, comments or suggestions that you'd like to share with the "Beyond the Billable Hour" community, please send them to me at: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Sharing your experiences - both of obstacles and successes - will benefit many others facing similar challenges.


2. A Word About Coaching

"Why would a lawyer hire a coach?"

I'm often asked this question. Although corporate America has been using executive coaching for quite some time, recognizing its effectiveness in promoting the success of the individual executive or employee, as well as the business, the legal profession has been slow to embrace coaching.

Hundreds of women lawyers have attended my Women's Bar Association sponsored teleconferences, and many feel discouraged. They've tried all kinds of about time-management, life-balance and self-promotion suggestions only to discover that while ideas looked great on paper, they seem impossible to implement given the realities of legal practice today.

I couldn't agree more - general strategies are usually not enough. They're not tailored to the individual lawyer's unique circumstances. They don't advise you about coping with the unexpected. Although you have the best intentions, it's often difficult to implement your plan. Real behavior change, skill acquisition and performance enhancement are far more complex than most people realize. All too often, people blame themselves or their circumstances for their inability to accomplish their goals. But it's much more likely that they simply were not trained in the ingredients of changing for good.

A coach is trained to help you develop and carry out an effective plan for accomplishing your goals. Your coach can assist you in sticking with your goals even when unanticipated crises seem to create impenetrable barriers to success. The trouble-shooting and support provided by a coach can turn an "idealistic notion" into a reality.

In a field where there are a paucity of good mentors for women attorneys, your coach can be your advisor and champion. A coach is an expert in behavior change and performance enhancement. You may believe that it's simply not possible to take care of yourself, have quality relationships with friends and family, demand civility at work, or market successfully, while still accomplishing all that your job requires. Or, you may be daunted by the prospect of changing work settings, going solo, getting the promotion you deserve, managing transitions in your organization, leading your practice group, developing a business plan to justify a part-time schedule in your firm, or mapping your career future. A coach knows how to help you systematically analyze your situation, craft an action plan and successfully accomplish your goals.

If you have questions, please feel free to take advantage of our free half hour consultation. Contact Ellen at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or at 301-578-8686.


3. How to Work From Home Without Turning Home Into Work

Electronic communication has freed many attorneys to do a significant portion of their work from home. You can telecommute part of the time if you work for an organization. Or you might be running a solo practice out of your home.

The advantages to working from home are obvious: you can be far more available to children or elders who need your care; you may be able to pay less for child care; you don't have the hassle of a daily commute; you can continue to work effectively even if health problems limit your ability to travel; you're spared at least some office politics; you're often able to focus without interruptions; and you have greater control of your physical surroundings. You're a whole person - your life can't be compartmentalized into separate boxes of work, family, etc. Working from home affirms this reality by allowing you to integrate work with other aspects of your life.

But working from home has its down-side. The absence of physical distance between work and home can sometimes allow work to take over your life. It's easy to find yourself perpetually running to the phone or fax, checking your e-mail, thinking, eating and breathing work. And therefore, you're never really with the people who motivated you to stay home in the first place.

Here are 10 things you can do to keep work from overtaking your life:

1. Place

Designate a private work space. Even if you meet with clients elsewhere (for example, a conference room at a law firm), your home office needs to be separate from the living space in your home.

Psychologists have long known that your environment serves as a cue for a particular behavior. You want your work space to signal you to focus on work - this will make you more efficient and effective. Similarly, you don't want think about work when you're reading to your children or trying to go to sleep - so keep work cues out of those spaces.

It's also easier to stay organized if you have one space for your work equipment and materials. You'll need phone and fax lines separate from those for your family. You don't want to be waiting for your teenager to get off the computer when you need to e-mail a client, or have your three-year old answer a client's call. Maintaining an office space - preferably with a door you can close - allows you to manage the "spread" of work into all corners of your life.

2. Time

Plan your work schedule together with all of your activities, including work and non-work activities. This is most effective when you've written out your goals for each of your life roles, as well as the activities that will enable you to accomplish these goals.

Designate specific hours when you will be working and communicate these clearly to your family. If family members don't view your time in your home office as equivalent to the time you'd spend at an office away from home, you'll be dealing with ongoing interruptions. The accumulating frustration you'll feel is bound to interfere with you concentration and efficiency. Trying to deal with both clients and children simultaneously can easily make you resentful of both.

Decide beforehand what constitutes an emergency for which you're willing to be interrupted. Teach your child-care provider about your rules for privacy and interruption. It may take your children a while to get used to the idea that you're not available when you're still in the house - but if you and your care giver are persistent, your children will adapt.

Sometimes it's helpful to actually change into your "work" clothes before going into your home office. Even casual outfits will communicate to your family that you're really going to work. It's also another cue for you to focus.

3. Accessibility Outside of "Work" Hours

Managing schedule creep is difficult for every attorney. To combat those clients or partners who expect you to be available according to their own needs, decide when you won't work. Establish criteria for emergency interruptions during these hours. Learn to say things like "I'll be happy to get to that on Monday" when you're asked at 4:45 on Friday to write a memo immediately.

If you receive a business call when you're at home but not working, first decide if the matter is sufficiently urgent for you to work during your family or personal time. If it is, take the call in your home office.

4. Be Up-Front With Clients

Most attorneys who work from home find that their work with clients benefits from being clear about their work circumstances. Clients may worry about your accessibility when you decide to work from home; being responsive to their calls reassures them that your commitment to providing them with the best possible counsel remains unchanged. Informing your clients about your work arrangements saves you from having to explain why they hear your children playing in the background. As your clients see that the quality of the service you provide is consistent, they'll learn to tolerate the household sounds.

5. Find Other Ways to be Responsive to Clients

If you're not available to respond to a legitimate client need, make sure someone else can. There's no reason why you can't share responsibility for client coverage with one or more other attorneys in your organization. As long as you coordinate schedules so that someone will be available to provide an appropriate and timely response, you can be sure your clients' needs will be served without having to sacrifice the values that led you to work from home.

6. Stay Connected

Whatever the reasons for your decision to work from home, it's essential for you to stay connected to your professional community. If you continue to work for a firm or organization, stay active in committees so that you can have some control over your perceived presence in the firm. Since it is typical for a partner to assign work to the first person s/he sees after a need for work arises, maintaining your visibility is necessary. If you're not physically present, you must have some way of staying on the mental radar screens of people in your organization. Maintaining regular e-mail and phone contact, scheduling lunches, and alerting partners to your interest in and availability for new projects are useful ways of ensuring you don't become "invisible."

And if you don't work in an organization, it's crucial to maintain your network. Stay in regular contact - both electronically and in person - with people in your network. Continue your efforts to expand your network based upon your strategic career goals. Schedule regular lunches; participate in Bar Association activities and committees; attend the trade association meetings of your market. Not only is this good for business, but you'll need the stimulation only colleagues can provide.

7. Do a Thorough Assessment of Your Technology Needs

To work at home, you must be equipped to work effectively. Make sure you have state-of-the-art technology necessary for providing quality client service. And if you work for a firm or an organization, make a business case for why they should provide the equipment. (You don't need to become a technology expert - there are plenty of people to advise you.)

8. Consider Virtual Assistants

Find ways to gain access to the support staff at your firm or organization. If you can't, consider hiring a virtual assistant. Virtual assistance is a fairly new administrative profession. Virtual assistants (VAs) provide administrative support using phone, fax and e-mail. They support their clients without having to set foot inside the clients' offices. VAs understand all confidentiality requirements and are highly skilled. By using VAs to handle administrative issues, you will be making the best use of your time.

To find a well-trained VA go to:

9. Make a Backup Plan for Caregiving

If you're working at home in order to assume caregiving responsibilities, you'll need to have a backup should a legitimate work emergency arise during your "off" hours. You need to be as free of worry as possible at all times - free of worry about work when you're providing care; and free of worry about loved ones when you're working. This is the best way to be efficient, effective and successful in all of your efforts.

10. Get Support and Guidance

Remember - you are a pioneer. Previous generations did not do what you are doing. You're negotiating balance issues, convincing partners and clients that this arrangement will benefit them as well as you, and coping with isolation. To help you cope, consider joining a support group of other attorneys working at home. And a coach can help you craft a plan for a work-at-home arrangement that works for you. The ability to work from home can offer wonderful advantages - as long as you master the challenges.



SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: A brief phone call is all you need now to find out more about Ellen's coaching. Call 212-461-2749 and hear Ellen interviewed by a woman lawyer and forensic psychologist. You can learn about Ellen's coaching practice and get a sense for what virtual coaching is like, just by listening to the recorded interview. This is available 24 hours/day, seven days/week.


BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™. is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.

Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.

She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.


NOTE: BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.



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Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
Phone: (301) 578-8686
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