Biglaw, Small Law Firms, Women's Issues

Size Matters: Who Wants It All?

Unless you have been living under a rock — or do not have female Facebook friends with mommy complexes — you have heard about Anne-Marie Slaughter’s Atlantic article, Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. It is apparently the most read article in the Atlantic’s history of online publication. And people are talking about it.

Most of my friend’s who have posted about the article are the demographic discussed in the piece — “younger” women who can’t have it all. They consistently proclaim the article to be our generation’s manifesto on work-life balance for women. The timing is perfect because I have almost outgrown my current manifesto, Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret.

One of the reasons that woman can’t have it all, says Slaughter, is because we have not come close to closing the gender gap in leadership. “Only when women wield power in sufficient numbers will we create a society that genuinely works for all women. That will be a society that works for everyone,” she wrote.” So true.

The article explains other reasons why we can’t have it all, offers some ideas for ways that we can get closer, and then does some other stuff. Truthfully, the article was too long, and I had to get back to my real work of trying to have it all.

So, what does these mean for small-firm female attorneys? What would having it all even look like at a small firm?

I have never aspired to “have it all.” The role models I see who come close lead lives that I do not want. During my days as a Biglaw associate, I worked for a 50+-year-old female partner who had two grown kids, a successful marriage (although she had like six last names, so successful might be a stretch), and a thriving practice. She was also bitter, mean, and resentful. She wanted the associates who worked for her — all women for some unknown reason — to suffer the slings and arrows she had to in order to ascend the ladder of success at the firm. She did not have it all.

When I went to a small firm, I worked for a woman who had no children, no husband, and a thriving practice. She worked all the time because she (a) liked money, and (b) had nothing else to do. And, she wore those same brightly colored power suits as Gloria Allred. She did not have it all. (Although, she had an awesome collection of red blazers.)

As I was leaving the small firm, a younger woman was made partner (because Power Suit went to a different firm). She had three kids, a successful marriage, and a collection of suits that were once worn by Calista Flockhart on Ally McBeal. She hated her kids, her husband, and her life. She did not have it all.

If I am to base my image of the woman who has it all from Slaughter’s piece, she is a mother, wife, and leader. That still does not sound like having it all. Based on the article, the kids end messed up, the husbands sound pathetic, and the women work all the time.

While I may not aspire to have it all (or even know what it is), there are small-firm women who do. According to my survey, there are female partners who work a lot. And, based on my conversations with small-firm female attorneys, they want to run their own firms or be part of their firm’s leadership. I did not ask them if they thought that in doing so they would have it all, but perhaps they would. Slaughter suggests that in order to succeed in work and life, it is important that our culture has women leaders, that work face time disappears, that family values are valued, and that a more balanced view of success become the model. That, to me, sounds like a small woman-owned law firm.

What do you think? Can small-firm women have it all? Or, are they suckers too like the rest of us women without it all? Should I buy a red power suit and pair it with a neckerchief???

Why Women Still Can’t Have It All [The Atlantic]

When not writing about small law firms for Above the Law, Valerie Katz (not her real name) works at a small firm in Chicago. You can reach her by email at and follow her on Twitter at @ValerieLKatz.

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