Finding Balance

Balance and the Law

After much thought, I've decided to add a new feature to Sui Generis and will be posting approximately once per week regarding the issue of balance.   I'll preface the title of each post with the word "Balance" so that those of you with no interest in this particular issue can skip over those posts.  And, I'll be adding a section to my sidebar that includes links to blogs and other resources on the issue of balance.

I've decided to focus on this issue since it's been on the forefront of my mind since 2003 when I left the law firm where I worked as an associate.  I'd been there for nearly four years, following my stint at the Public Defender's Office, even though  I'd never envisioned myself in a law firm.  And yet there I was--and if I was going to work in a law firm for my entire life, that firm was the one for me.  It was full of great lawyers, and more importantly, good people.   

But, it wasn't the right fit for me.  I wasn't happy.  I felt trapped, claustrophobic.  I couldn't put my finger on it, although I knew that work/life balance had something to do with it--but that wasn't the sole problem. 

I had one child at that time and planned to have at least one more.   Although I could litigate and procreate, I had the sneaking suspicion that something had to give--either the quality of my work or my marriage and family.  And, assuming that I even had a choice,I wasn't willing to choose between one or the other.

But that wasn't the only issue.  I also felt as if my creative side was dying a slow death, almost as if a part of my brain was shutting down.  The law was suffocating me.  I'd entered law school with a strong Type A personality to begin with and Lady Law warped it into something nearly unrecognizable and unbearable.  I didn't like who I'd become.  I wanted out.

So, my husband, a nurse, who had been the primary caregiver for our daughter, stepped up to the plate and I took a time out on the bench and tried to figure out where I wanted to go with my professional life.  Eventually I determined that it wasn't the practice of law that I had issues with--it was the way that I was practicing it. 

I realized that I needed to return to law on my own terms.  I missed the law and the lawyers that I'd come to know over the years.  I missed logical thinking and legal writing.  I missed a part of me that I'd essentially abandoned in 2003.   So, just about one year ago, I opened up shop as a contract attorney and started this blog.   And, I began to think about the legal field and work/life balance.  A lot.   

I realized that the law can be all encompassing.  It's always been that way, hence the saying "the law is a jealous mistress."  And attempting to balance one's chosen career with other non-legal obligations such as the demands of family life can be a delicate and difficult balancing act for both male and female lawyers.  The legal field, especially the private sector, has been far slower to respond in any meaningful way to the requests of lawyers for accommodation and flexibility than other fields such as accounting and medicine.  And as a result there has been a growing dissension amongst the ranks of lawyers--especially younger lawyers.  Many are simply leaving  law firms in search of greener pastures.  That's a lot of lost talent.

As I stated in this post a few months ago:

As I see it, it's not a feminist issue.  It's a societal issue.  Professional couples are taking a hard look at their lives and, by virtue of their advanced educational levels, are in a position to make choices that will allow them to improve the quality of their family's life.  In other words, women and men with advanced degrees have more choices available to them as a result of their education and work experience.

Legal employers are slowly but surely beginning to notice the effects of their refusal to bend to the demands of a new generation of lawyers.  And they're finally beginning to try to appear as if they're making attempts to change as is evidenced by this press release from the legal giant Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP.  The JD Bliss blog had this to say about the news:

(E)ven the hardest working, white shoe firms are starting to come around to the need to boost retention rates by offering flexible working arrangements. In this vein, Weil Gotshal announced last week that it named 20 new partners - two of whom are "Flex-Time Partners," a new partnership category formed for new partners making a long-term career choice to work on a flexible schedule. The "Flex-Time Partner" title is available to both women and men entering the partnership.

At first glance, this press release may not seem like much.  But, it's the first step, albeit a small one.  I predict that eventually legal employers will have to change, since the market will demand it and they'll have no future if they don't.   So, the moral of today's little balance tidbit is:  You can't run a law office without a bunch of entry level lawyers doing all the grunt work now, can you?

Maybe, just maybe, legal employers are figuring that one out on their own.