Work-life balance is increasingly an issue for burned-out lawyers of both genders, parents in particular. Law students interviewing at firms increasingly ask whether they’ll have a life once they have a job. Our roundup keeps track of this hot topic for you.
And the replacements are becoming scarce. In a recent American Bar Association member survey, only 44 percent of respondents said they’d recommend the profession to others. The animosity doesn’t stop at passive non-endorsement. Disenchanted lawyers are busy warning off the uninitiated via every channel available – chronicling the pitfalls of large firms and the profession in general. The result: Law school applications are down nearly 7 percent from 2006, when they were already down more than 5 percent from 2005.
Family time must bear some of the cost of this attrition. The Families and Work Institute has found that younger workers are more “dual-centric” (attaching equal importance to career and family) and less work-centric than in decades past.
I noticed this when I lateraled to the much-merged Reed Smith. The generational divide was palpable: Younger lawyers were increasingly unwilling to sell their parenting opportunities and other extracurricular priorities to the highest bidder. Even if those lawyers had the fortitude (or foolishness) to try and achieve balance, they weren’t given much chance to do so. “The money winds up giving people less time to meet performance goals. Decisions about who to keep are made a little quicker,” says one Am Law 20 partner.
If firms are to get serious about fostering environments of “reasonable balance,” they may need to look back before they can move ahead. In the 1970s, my dad, who was a partner at a respected California firm, made sure that our family spent most of each August river rafting, and that we took some fishing trips during the rest of the year. In 1963, the ABA considered 1,300 billable hours full-time. This Kennedy-era approach and my dad’s insistence on being a dad seem far more suited to the mind set of the 21st century legal workforce than today’s firms have yet to recognize.
Denise Howell’s practice focuses on intellectual property, technology and media. She writes a blog, Bag and Baggage. This piece originally appeared in The American Lawyer, a Recorder affiliate.