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In a bygone era of traditional family roles and standardized working environments for lawyers, balancing the demands of home and work was not a topic of discussion. Work, for most lawyers, came first, and home was a clear second. If you did not care to follow that priority scheme, you simply did not enter the field of law. Today, the law is much more open to lawyers with different ideas about how to balance home and work. This new working environment offers the opportunity to find a balance that works for you, given your individual circumstances. Here are some of the factors to consider in striking your own personal home/work balance. Begin with the recognition that some imbalance is inherent in the practice of law. Despite increasing flexibility in working arrangements, law remains a challenging, demanding profession. Just as law school can occupy essentially all of your waking time if you let it, so too can the practice of law demand as much time as you are willing to give. Yet there is clearly a need for balance. If you have no life outside the law, your mental, physical, and emotional health are at risk. Maintaining a “home” life (broadly defined to include family and personal relationships and other activities outside of work) is essential. Your successes may be more satisfying and your challenges less difficult to bear if you have time to share them with someone at home. Indeed, for many lawyers, a successful career means little without a satisfying personal life. Moreover, for many lawyers, like anyone else, the demands of home life (such as caring for an ailing family member) simply cannot be ignored. At the other extreme, unwillingness to compromise on home priorities may make it impossible to pursue the kind of vibrant, fulfilling practice that you desire. There are some “punch the clock” legal jobs, but they are rarely as desirable as jobs with more demanding schedules. ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES Many lawyers believe that because the demands of law are potentially limitless, finding a home/work balance means figuring out when to say no to work. That approach, however, is bound to overestimate the value of work and underestimate the value of home. Far better to take each component as presumptively equal in value, and then determine circumstances when the value of one clearly outweighs the other. Your top priorities will likely be one-of-a-kind events (for both home and work). Your wedding or the birth of a child will certainly be much more important than any work experience. Your first trial or your first major solo deal, by contrast, may be worth many late nights that crowd out routine home events. Within these extremes, virtually every home or work activity can be placed on a continuum of priorities, and you can establish a rough comparison between home and work priorities. Your priorities, of course, are your own. They may change over time and may vary with circumstances, yet the basic analysis will not. The choice to work is a choice not to spend the same time at home, and vice versa. “Getting your priorities straight” on this issue does not mean that you will reach any particular result, but that you will remain conscious, at all times, of the fact that you are making choices. SETTING LIMITS Once you have established your priorities, the next step is to set limits that ensure your priorities are recognized by those around you — at work and at home. The more that the people with whom you live and work are aware of how you wish to balance your home and work priorities, the easier it will be to achieve your preferred balance. Start with your secretary. Your secretary should know your priorities, on a general basis, and should therefore be in a position to help you implement your plan. Your secretary should, for example, be able to inform your colleagues and supervisors of your whereabouts and schedule at all times, and quickly transmit messages to you when you must be away from the office. And if your secretary can help you organize your work so that all your working time is efficiently spent, you can spend more time at home. As for your other colleagues, the more they know about your schedule, in a general sense, and even on a day-to-day basis, the better off you will be. If, for example, you know about a significant home event in advance, you should announce your expected absence from the office (and, if appropriate, make arrangements to have a colleague cover your work during your absence). If there is a regular element of your home schedule that will keep you away from work, you should let your colleagues and supervisors know about that constraint. Similarly, if there is a routine element of work (a Monday morning meeting, for example), you should let those at home know that you must conform your home schedule to that requirement. Be as specific as possible, in both directions. A vague request to your employer that you want to cut back on hours for some period, for example, will be much less effective than the request that you be allowed to leave the office each day at 5:00 p.m., or that you can only work four days per week. You may need to negotiate to get the schedule you want, but being specific will ensure a mutual understanding of the arrangement and make it easier to stick with your imposed limits. The discussion at home should also be specific. Vague promises to try to spend more time at home usually cannot be kept. Be realistic about your needs, and be clear about your plan. Avoid the frustration that can come from having (or giving) the sense that the demands by those at home are somehow interfering with your career. If you make clear what your home priorities are, and you take steps to ensure those priorities are honored, home discussions will center on how best to balance home and work under the circumstances, not whether your home life holds any priority for you. TECHNOLOGY SOLUTIONS In addition to administrative solutions for balancing competing demands of home and work, there may be technology-based solutions. Telecommuting, for example, permits a worker to handle some work obligations from home. As with other solutions, this kind of arrangement depends on a clear understanding between all affected parties. If your firm approves such an arrangement, you must make sure that everyone you work with knows your schedule. Likewise, friends and family need to understand that your work time at home really must be spent working. Nonspecific plans to work “more” from home are probably bound to fail. It is essential to develop a specific, workable plan and, once it is approved, to disclose the plan to all concerned at your office and at home. HAVING IT ALL There are no magic choices. Every decision involves some trade-off between home and work priorities. If you set as your goal the impossible standard of “having it all,” you may be setting yourself up to fail. Fortunately, in our modern work environment, it is possible to conceive of compromises and life plans that permit more balance than could ever be achieved in the past. Today, most law firms have some form of part-time work arrangement — some even have a part-time partner track. Most firms, moreover, are increasingly embracing older lawyers, many in their second career, making it possible for some lawyers to attend to home life for a period and then return to full-time work. The concept of “having it all” now extends to an entire career, rather than any particular point along the path of a career. The result is greater flexibility and greater opportunity to formulate a plan that is right for you. Steven C. Bennett is a partner in the New York City office of Jones Day and is a member of the firm’s training committee. The views expressed are solely the author’s and should not be attributed to the author’s firm or its clients.

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