How to Manage a Medical Issue When You Have a Full-Time, Demanding, Legal Job

How to Manage a Medical Issue When You Have a Full-Time, Demanding, Legal JobThis week we welcome back guest writer and lawyer Marissa Geannette to discuss dealing with a medical issue and being a lawyer at the same time.

Juggling a demanding legal job with all of your other life obligations definitely takes some work. On top of that, if you have a medical issue, it’s even more essential that you have a plan so that neither your work nor your health suffers.

So, how can you manage a medical issue and keep up with your job, all while taking care of yourself? This is such an individual question, and, in the end, what you choose to do or say (or not do or say) is totally up to you. However, we have a few tips to help you start thinking about how you might want to manage your own situation.

Whether it is a chronic illness, a new diagnosis, months-long fertility treatments, a temporary setback, or anything else that will take up a significant amount of your time and cause you to miss chunks of work, here are some tips on how to manage your medical issue and demanding legal job:

Talk to HR (if you’re comfortable doing so)

Only you know what you are comfortable disclosing and to whom. Consider, at the very least, talking to someone in human resources. HR professionals are trained to discretely deal with issues like an employee’s medical diagnosis and other personal problems.

When you talk to them, HR can direct you to your firm or company’s resources, and let you know what your options are. Most companies have plans in place to accommodate employees, and you are also protected by federal and state laws.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), for example, requires employers with more than fifteen employees to provide “reasonable accommodation” to employees with physical or mental disabilities (so long as no undue hardship to the company is caused by the accommodation).

You can talk to HR about modifying your work schedule or even taking a paid, medical leave, if necessary. In addition to the ADA, there are laws, like the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), that HR will be able to provide you with more information on.

While you do not have to talk to HR, it is often better to disclose an illness up front rather than later down the line. If your performance suffers because of your illness and you are let go, you won’t have many options for recourse if you failed to disclose your illness ahead of time.

Talk to your supervisor (if you’re comfortable doing so)

Again, only if you are comfortable doing so – consider opening up to your supervisor. By filling them in on your situation, you can explain ahead of time why you might be less available than expected or need extra coverage from the team. Law firms sometimes get a bad rap about the demands of the job, but, in my experience, they are also filled with mostly kind people who are understanding of personal issues and struggles.

Not comfortable telling your boss the details of your condition? No worries, you don’t have to. Simply letting them know that you are dealing with something and what accommodations you think you’ll need is enough.

Get support from coworkers (if you want it)

It’s very understandable that you wouldn’t want your medical business being blasted across the office. That’s why you should carefully consider who in your office to tell. If you have a mentor or close colleague, consider letting them know that you are facing a medical issue and will need some extra support.

Like your boss, if you have an understanding team, they will be more than happy to cover for you, usually with no questions asked – just as you would do for someone else on the team.

Prepare ahead of time if you’re going to be out

If you know ahead of time that you’re going to miss an important meeting, a deal closing, or multiple days of work, try your best not to leave your coworkers hanging without any notice. You don’t have to tell anyone where you are going or what you will be out for, but you should give them the heads-up, to the extent possible, about any of your absences.

Now, this does not mean staying at the office until 3 a.m. the night before you have a medical procedure or appointment, frantically trying to get everything perfect for your coworkers. It just means that, if you can, try to think a little bit ahead. Do little things, like making sure your team has everything they need from you before you leave and copying relevant people on your emails to loop them in.

Talk to your doctor about any concerns

Depending on your diagnosis, your doctor might have some concerns about your work. Talk to them – honestly – about your current schedule and demands. Make sure they agree that your continued working, and at what pace, is appropriate. Your doctor can also write a letter outlining what accommodations you’ll need, if you think that would be helpful to support your absences.

Remember that your health is your #1 priority

Lastly, no matter the pressure you feel to be the “perfect” employee, nothing is worth risking your health. You might be tempted to push through and pretend you are fine, but resist this urge. Know your limits and slow down. The work will always be there and now, more than ever, is the time for you to focus on yourself first.


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About Marissa Geannette

Marissa graduated from the University of Southern California Gould School of Law in 2009 where she was a member of the Law Review. She began her career in the corporate department of White & Case LLP in NYC and spent 8 years as an associate there. Marissa is passionate about educating law students and recent law grads about Biglaw and career paths one can take after law school (both traditional and non-traditional). She wrote her book, “Behind the Biglaw Curtain” to help demystify Biglaw for those beginning their careers. Whether it’s in Biglaw or not, she believes that there is a satisfying career out there for everyone (even if it’s not the traditional one you thought you were “supposed” to have).

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