Book a Breakthrough Call

Boundaries That Work (Even in Big Law)

Jenn Deal was definitely not going to be a lawyer. 

As a kid, people often told her she should be a lawyer. That was all it took for her to cross it off the list because the last thing she was gonna do was what everyone told her to. 

In college, she majored in criminal justice. She took one legal class as part of the curriculum, and fell in love with it. Eventually, she found herself at Emory Law School, then went on to practice trademark law at a Big Law firm in Atlanta. 

Jenn really enjoyed Big Law (which is a rare experience, we know). 

She worked with wonderful people who would become friends, colleagues, and mentors for life.

But even though she had great mentors, she still felt there was something missing. Not only did her mentors tend to guide her towards a career path similar to their own, but no one taught her soft skills like…

How to manage your time when you have 7 partners you’re working with…

Or how to have a personal life when you’re expected to bill 1,900 hours.

She had to figure these things out largely on her own, many times the hard way. 

When Jenn got a chance to be a mentor and coach to more junior associates, she saw that they were really brilliant people capable of doing amazing work AND having lives that felt good to them…


They just needed someone to show them how. 

When the pandemic hit, everything but work went away, and Jenn decided to use the extra time on her hands to get certified as a coach. At first, she thought she might do something internally at her firm, but ultimately decided she wanted the flexibility and freedom of having her own business. 

When she started putting herself out there as a coach, an opportunity dropped into her lap to work at a small boutique firm, so she went for it.


Today, Jenn gets to do both things she loves: trademark law and helping women create careers and lives that they feel good about. 

She teaches her clients the things she wished someone would teach her as a new associate, like managing her time and still having a personal life. 


I asked Jenn, “Why are boundaries hard for lawyers and what are some tips on actually starting to create boundaries that serve you?” 

Here was her response: 

As lawyers, we have a picture in our minds of what makes a good lawyer. We often implicitly and explicitly get told that it means being available 24-7, overworking, overscheduling, and saying yes to everything. Doing anything different feels really uncomfortable. 

So we end up overworked, stressed, exhausted, and resentful. 

Instead of confronting these things, we just get used to feeling this way. This is especially true for women, who are taught to say yes and be kind and put other people’s needs before their own. 

But it doesn’t have to be this way.


Here are 4 steps to creating healthy boundaries: 



Accept that it will be uncomfortable. 


If you’re used to saying yes to things and you’re worried about disappointing people, setting boundaries for the first time is going to be uncomfortable, especially when it butts up against what someone else wants.

But just because it’s uncomfortable, doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. You’re learning a new skill, and any time you learn something new, it’s going to be hard and maybe a little awkward at first. Don’t get so caught up in doing it perfectly that you don’t end up doing it. 



Start with things that don’t require you to upset someone else. 


We’re causing many of our own problems because of the way we’re showing up. 

If we’re trying to cram 24 hours worth of work into a day, then of course we’re going to feel overwhelmed and overscheduled. Nobody actually asked us to respond at 11 pm, but we’re responding anyways because of the way it feels for us. 

Start to untangle how you’re showing up in your life that’s creating the overwhelm, stress, and anxiety, and work on those places first. 

Practice saying no in small increments. 


At first, practice saying no in small ways that feel safe. If you start with, “I’m never working with that partner again,” of course it’s going to be hard and scary. 

Instead, try pushing back on one deadline. Say “no” to one bar event that you don’t actually want to attend. Think of some small places where you can practice that skill and feel less uncomfortable. Not totally comfortable, just less uncomfortable. Then, it’s about doing it over and over again until you build up a tolerance for the discomfort. 


Your boundaries are yours. 


There’s a lot of pop psychology out there about other people violating your boundaries, but your boundaries are yours. Other people can show up in ways that you don’t like, but you are the one in control of your boundaries. 

If someone asks you to work a weekend you were going to take off, and you end up doing what they ask, you’re the problem in that situation. Of course it would’ve been nice if they wouldn’t have asked you, but we can’t expect that in the practice of law. 

So get really clear on what is yours when it comes to boundaries. It’s your job to say no. 

We don’t get to change how other people show up. They’re still going to send you emails at 11:00 PM on a Friday night. They’re still going to ask you to work on your vacations. You have to start taking that responsibility of saying no when those requests come up. 

I loved this conversation with Jenn. Setting boundaries will build your confidence muscle. You’ll start to say no in small ways until eventually you’ll get more comfortable. 

Whether you’re in Big Law, in-house, or thinking about branching out on your own, setting boundaries will help you create a career and life you love - which is what we’re all about at Powerhouse Lawyers. 


Where to find Jenn: 

LinkedIn: Jenn Deal 

Instagram: @jenn_deal_coaching


Listen to Powerhouse Lawyers