Last week’s column was not intended for a particular group, other than those who enter the world of Biglaw and then wonder what has become of their work/life balance. Some accused me of whining. If that is how you comprehended my message, it speaks to a lack of either comprehension on your part, or writing talent on my part. I was not complaining, I was preaching — or trying to preach. I receive so many letters from young (inexperienced) attorneys and law students asking me about the mythical work/life balance that I took the opportunity to blow off some steam in an attempt to speak truth. I feel that I may not have been thorough, and want to further elucidate (bloviate).
A work/life balance connotes, to me, the ability to have a successful career while maintaining a home life consisting of more than kissing a sleeping child’s forehead. I am more than aware that I am very fortunate to have attained some semblance of this goal in my current position. Until this time in my career however, I was a failure at balancing the “work” demands with the “home” demands. No whining, just a fact of self-realization.
It amazes me that there still exists an undercurrent of thought (it is an undercurrent, because no one would dare speak this out loud) that my previous life was simply the way it should be — for men — in the profession. This is one symptom of the problem at hand when trying to balance a career and a family. I cannot tell you how many times I heard the whispers that so and so was never going to make partner because she hadn’t had a baby yet. Further, take a look around your firm; how many male partners are having their first children at age 45 or above. It used to astound me the number of wrinkled “olds” who would boast of having a first kid at 50. Something seems amiss in a model where a man feels barred from the joys of family life because of the drive to make partner. But, I am not judging those folks, rather, I am pointing out a fact of life that should give one pause if they think they can successfully pull off the partner track and the daddy track.
I encourage you to jump in to Biglaw with both feet if you are young, single, and ambitious. It will slowly wear you down, but it can come close to killing you if you try it with a family or with a partner who is equally ambitious. I want to make clear that the fact is that if you make 160k/year as a young associate, the price to be paid is your time. There is nothing inherently wrong with that sacrifice, I am simply stating that you should not expect your firm to give an inch toward making your home life more comfortable or palatable.
This issue is almost, but not really, akin to young medical residents being worked to the bone for very little pay just because that’s the way it has always been. Personally, I would rather have someone diagnosing and working on a potentially life threatening injury to have had some sleep in the past 24 hours, but I digress. Those folks have no work/life balance either. The difference being they are almost guaranteed a chance at cashing in once they “graduate.” Law students start out underwater, and only get pushed under once they begin their first year of practice. If you are entering this career hoping to work equally hard at being an attorney as well as a parent, don’t go to Biglaw. Try a smaller shop or a boutique, or do public service work. I recommend taking a job that will give you experience in the area that you want to practice and try like Hell to make it work; then go home and have (a late) dinner with your family.
After two federal clerkships and several years as a litigator in law firms, David Mowry is happily ensconced as an in-house lawyer at a major technology company. He specializes in commercial leasing transactions, only sometimes misses litigation, and never regrets leaving firm life. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.