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In a bygone era of traditional family roles and standardized working environments for lawyers, there was perhaps little need to dwell on the question of how to balance the demands of home and work. Work, for most lawyers, came first, and home 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 a variety of concepts of how to balance home and work. This new working environment presents the challenge of how to find a balance that makes most sense to you, and that is practical in your circumstances. This article outlines some of the factors to consider in striking your own personal home/work balance. NEED FOR 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 potentially demand as much time as you are willing to give. Yet there is clearly some need for balance. If you have no life outside the law, you may endanger your mental, physical and emotional health. Maintenance of a “home” life (broadly defined to include maintaining 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, there is little point to a successful career if there is no satisfying non-work life. Moreover, for many lawyers, 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” law jobs available, but they are rarely as desirable as jobs where schedules are less structured (and thus where more time demands are presented). ESTABLISHING PRIORITIES The sense that many lawyers have is that because the demands of law are potentially limitless, the challenge in finding a home/work balance is to figure out when to say “no” to work. That method, 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 in which 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 your first child will almost 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 regular home events. Within these extremes, virtually every home or work activity can be placed on a continuum of priorities, and a rough equation between home and work established. Your priorities, of course, are your own. Your priorities may change over time, and may vary with circumstances. Yet the key 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 key element in any plan to establish an effective home/work balance requires making sure (on both ends) that you set limits that ensure that your priorities are recognized by those around you (at work and at home). The more that those around you know 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, as a result, 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. In the other direction, your secretary may be able to help you organize your work in such a way as to ensure that all your working time is efficiently spent, thus increasing the time you can spend at home. The same goes for announcing your priorities to others with whom you work. 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 take steps to announce your expected absence from the office (and, if appropriate, make arrangements to have a colleague cover your desk 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. In the other direction, 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. The vague request of 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 able to leave the office each day at 5:00 p.m., or that you can only work four days per week. It may be that you need to negotiate specific arrangements with your firm, but your mutual understanding of the arrangement will be far clearer, and your ability to stick with your imposed limits far easier, than if the discussion about arrangements is not specific. The discussion at home should also be specific. Vague promises that you will “try to spend more time at home” cannot be effectively implemented. Be realistic about your needs, and clear about your plan. Avoid the frustration that can come from the sense (express or implicit) that the demands of those at home are somehow interfering with your career. If you are clear about what your home priorities are, and you take steps to ensure that those priorities are honored, your home discussions will center on how best to balance home and work under the circumstances, and not whether your home life holds any priority for you. 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 much more possible to conceive of compromises and life plans that permit more balance than could ever be achieved in the past. Today, for example, most law firms have some form of part-time work program (and even, in many firms, programs to achieve partnership and perform as a partner on a part-time basis). Most firms, moreover, are increasingly embracing second career and older lawyers, making it possible in many instances to attend to home life for a period, and then return to full-time work when appropriate. The concept of “having it all” thus now extends to an entire career, rather than confining the notion of a home/work balance to 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 co-director of the New Associates Group there. 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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