It was a cold, dark 2nd of January. Back to school day for my kids, back to work for me, all after a wonderful holiday season. Of course, the kids were out of their routine and not anxious to return. Which meant they were late. Which meant I would be late getting to the office and the mountains of work piled up over the holidays. I had to hurry home after dropping them off to get ready. As I headed down the hill for home, I saw him too late. A cop. Happy New Year, blessed by a speeding ticket.
For most of us, January is just that way. We know it’s coming, but we can’t stop it. It’s a cold, hard slap of reality. It’s the first day back in the office for many partners and associates. It was a day I dreaded and feared. Dreaded because it meant Christmas was truly over. Feared because who knew what awaited me for the coming year. And it always seemed that I had a trial set in early January for which work was not done as well as it could have been over the holidays.
For many people, January is a cold, hard month. Gone are the family gatherings, the warm greetings, the good cheer. Gone are the Christmas lights that brighten an otherwise bleak landscape. The holidays are all escape, visions of sugarplums dancing in our heads.
January, on the other hand, is Scrooge before the spirits. It’s the Grinch and Darth Vader rolled up in one. It’s the month when it’s time to pay the piper for all the holiday extravagances, whether in money, pounds, or both. Its when we ask ourselves, what was I thinking when I spent so much, ate so much, drink so much. It’s back to work, back to school, back to reality. And God help you if you went on an exotic vacation someplace warm and returned to the cold bleak winter landscape.
Many lawyers, particularly litigators, feel the reality of January even more acutely. Most law firms run on a calendar basis. That means your billable hour quota, billable, and collection quotas were all due December 31. It means your profitability and revenues for the year were fixed on December 31. And your compensation as a partner for the next year often hinged on those numbers. Have a good year and meet your quotas, as I fortunately often did in early December, and you can coast some for the holidays. And even if you didn’t make it, there was not much you could do about it.
Come January 1, all your numbers reset to zero
But come January 1, all your numbers reset to zero. Whatever boulder you had worked so hard to push up the mountain for the prior year was now right back where it started from– at the bottom of the mountain. It’s there waiting for you to push it up again. And the climb looked more arduous every year.
Add to that for litigators, at least, not much went on from Thanksgiving till the end of the year. Not many trials. Few depositions. Fewer frantic motions or document productions. Fewer screaming sessions with opposing counsel or clients. (Other than the traditional end-of-year donning clients to pay their bills). Judges and even opposing counsel were a bit less demanding, probably because they were in holiday mode as well.
So when you came back on January 2, you faced all the work you didn’t do in December plus all the January work.
It was the hardest time of the year, at least for me. You see all the Christmas decorations being taken down and realize the party is over, and there is nothing left but hard work. As I sign I saw on Facebook today said, January is the Monday of the year.
Perhaps the Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Methodists have it right. The Christmas season shouldn’t end on December 26 or 31. It ends on the Twelfth Night. This year, it’s January 8th. That at least gives you a little time to face the music.
So, I will keep my decorations up till the 8th. I will keep playing the same holiday music after Christmas, even if it doesn’t sound quite the same.
And this year, like most, I plan to attend the CES, the massive consumer electronics show in Las Vegas starting January 7. It’s something to look forward to and keeps me moving; I’ll be writing about what I see and hear there. It’s a soft way to return to work without it seeming like I am going back to work exactly. Shortly after, there is ALM LegalWeek and the ABA Tech Show. So it’s not like there is nothing to look forward.
No matter how you shake it, January is one of those things we just have to get through
When I think back over my time as a lawyer, I wish I would have devoted more time to coming up with things to look forward to during the January and Februarys of the year. Too often, I celebrated the holidays and left everything I didn’t want to do till after January 1. On the other hand, I did enjoy the holidays unencumbered with plotting and stewing over the new year. At least till the new year.
They will also tell you it’s also wise to reflect in January about what you have to be thankful for. What good things have happened and could happen in the new year. And that there is something comforting about buckling down and focusing on the work at hand. (Right, lol)
But no matter how you shake it, January is one of those things we just have to get through. It’s like that cop sitting at the bottom of the hill. We know it’s coming, but we can’t stop it.
Let’s face it, January sucks. There are no two ways about it.