Ed. note: This post is by Will Meyerhofer, a former Sullivan & Cromwell attorney turned psychotherapist. He holds degrees from Harvard, NYU Law, and The Hunter College School of Social Work, and he blogs at The People’s Therapist. His new book, Life is a Brief Opportunity for Joy, is available on Amazon.
I did a podcast a while back with the ABA Journal. The topic was “work/life balance.” You can listen to it here.
It was a weird experience – like living on another planet.
I was the sole male. The other panelists and the moderator were women. That’s fine, but somehow, faced with the topic of “work/life balance,” everyone turned into Gloria Steinem circa 1971.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a shrill, strident feminist committed to full equality for women, and I have no beef with Gloria Steinem.
But how is work/life balance in the legal world strictly a gender issue? Women are admitted to law schools, and graduate from them, like men. They go to the same law firms, make the same money and take the same abuse…
I have tangential experience with this stuff since I’m gay. When people talk about homophobia at Sullivan & Cromwell I roll my eyes. Homophobia wasn’t the issue. Humanophobia was the issue. Some of the partners and plenty of the associates were openly gay. Homo or hetero, male or female, we were all in the same boat.
The unspoken “women’s lib” angle on the “work/life balance” at law firms is this: women give birth to children, and it’s impossible to raise a kid if you are a partner at a law firm, so women are less likely to become partners. If they did, they wouldn’t have time to raise a kid. It’s also impossible to meet anyone you want to have a kid with when you’re working 70-hour weeks.
These are incontrovertible facts of law firm life.
Plenty of male partners have kids. They become absentee fathers, and their kids never see them. Nothing new there. But a social stigma kicks in when your kid tells his friends he only sees mommy an hour a week.
You also have to find time to be pregnant. If you put it off until you make partner, you face fertility problems. That’s a fundamental bummer about being a woman who wants a kid — when you’re mentally prepared, your body gives out. At sixteen, anyone can get pregnant. At 39, you can only get pregnant if you don’t want to. If you’re trying, it never happens.
The solution to all this is obvious: have a kid while you still can, and let your husband do the raising.
That’s more or less where the other panelists ended up, but only after spouting “women can have it all” slogans and fabricating visions of “part-time partners.” The law professors on the panel had no concept of law firm reality. The young lawyer running an internet-based T&E firm receded politely when I pointed out the obvious: plenty of women would rather stay at home with the kids than work at a firm. Hell, I’ve worked with couples where the husband and wife fight over who has to do law for a living. They’d both rather stay home and play with junior. Wouldn’t you?
A second yawning gulf between me and the other panelists came with their determination to defend law as a profession. They were “pro-law” and I was “anti-law.” That’s understandable, since the ABA Journal represents the official propaganda ministry for Law, Inc. Law professors need to herd eager young things into school – that’s how they earn big bucks. And the internet lady was trying to drum up business, too – she has loans to pay.
I’m not from that world. I’m a psychotherapist who cleans up the wreckage of young lives decimated by the law school/law firm machine.
Here’s a little scandal for you: at least 10 minutes of the podcast – the final 10 minutes, where I stopped sitting back feeling out of place and came out swinging – were deleted from the recording. You hear a fadeout as I’m about to come on.
What did you miss?
You guessed it – a whole lot of me talking about the reality of law firm life – and lawyer unemployment – including the fact that “work/life balance” is a myth for most lawyers because they work insane hours and hate their jobs.
In other words, a cool, clear blast of truth.