Work-life balance

Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us.

Labor Day weekend is here. So let’s talk about… labor! In the Biglaw salt mines.

In response to our earlier Flashback Friday posts about associate compensation in the 1990s, we received a few requests for information about billable hours back then. People wanted to know how hard associates had to work back in the day for that $83,000 starting salary.

It’s a good question. You hear anecdotal evidence going in both directions. Sometimes people who have been in the profession for a long time talk about how hard they had to work before technology made things so much easier, recalling the bad old days of never-ending, hard-copy due diligence or document review. On other occasions, though, old timers reminisce about the good old ways when law was more of a profession and less of a business; sure, lawyers earned less, but they had lives — or , at least, better work-life balance.

Which picture holds more truth? Here’s some data….

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Bruce Stachenfeld

I am famous for a saying. Actually I am not really famous, but I have a saying that I have been, well, saying for years, as follows:

“Lawyers are only happy when they’re miserable.”

What I mean is this: You are working round-the-clock so much you haven’t even been home for a full day and hardly at all for a month on a doozie of a deal. You are completely sick of it. All you can think of is when the deal will be “over.” You are clearly “miserable.” If only you could have your personal life back! Then, finally, the deal closes — at last. Your client is wiring out the funds. As the transfer of funds is happening, a (terrible) thought races through your mind. You hate yourself for the thought — you try not to have the thought — but you simply can’t help it… and the thought is that you are kind of worried because you have nothing to do now and that is disquieting… gee, what if work has really slowed… at some point this will be a real problem. You’ve had your personal life back for maybe a second — you haven’t even taken a shower — and you are worrying where your next deal will come from.

Or the other way around. Work has been slow — very slow — for a couple of months. You have enjoyed some rounds of golf and gone out to a bunch of dinners and lunches, but you really would like a nice tricky and challenging deal to sink your teeth into. And of course you are mindful of the fact that like it or not lawyers just have to bill hours. That is how we make a living, and you just aren’t billing hours. Not a good thing. You are edgy — if only you could have a big deal to work on….

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* Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes took advantage of Washington state law and purchased himself some legal pot yesterday, making him the highest-profile lawyer in the country. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer]

* DC Comics blocked plans to build a memorial to a murdered 5-year-old Superman fan dressed in costume. Realizing that this was awful and stupid, they’ve reversed themselves. [Gawker]

* New York Justice Roger Barto said he was attacked and beaten with a toilet seat. The police disagree. [WHAM]

* Laurence Tribe recounting his experiences with a young Barack Obama. [Fiscal Times]

* Remember when Justice Scalia screwed up that decision and quietly edited it hoping we wouldn’t notice? Well the days of the secret editing of SCOTUS opinions are over. [CREW]

* The continuing coverage of the Donald Sterling trial: Sterling takes the stand. [mitchell epner]

* We talk a lot about work-life balance among lawyers, but we don’t think much about the work-life balance among law professors. [TaxProf Blog]

* If you wanted to understand the UK legal market, this infographic is basically “choose your own adventure” for a legal career across the pond. [Gorvins]

* What do the former Biglaw Bigshot and Joan Rivers have in common? [Law and More]

I was trying to achieve a work-life balance after I had missed my children’s lives.

Lee Smolen, the ex-Sidley Austin partner who was hit with ethics charges after he faked almost $70,000 in reimbursable car fare expenses, during his testimony last week before the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission. The IARDC seeks a temporary suspension of Smolen’s license to practice law as punishment for his pilfering.

Usually, the pursuit of “work/life balance” is just a fight between management and labor. Occasionally, it’s an internal conversation where an employee’s desire to succeed professionally is pitted against his or her desire to succeed domestically. Of course, there are always the people who believe they can “have it all,” as if work/life balance can be reduced to checking a number of accomplishment boxes in the most brutally efficient way possible.

But occasionally, work/life balance becomes a battle ground for people to justify a number of “life” choices that have nothing to do with work.

That’s what we have here today. A memo went around one of the top firms in Manhattan from a woman claiming she needed an “I’m having a baby day” so she could go to a Katy Perry concert. Before I post it and open up the comments, I’m going to make some popcorn — that’ll give everybody some time to ramp up their outrage meters to 11…

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Keith Lee

It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day life of a lawyer. And the longer you are a lawyer, the more it will come to define you – if you let it. But it is a limiting definition, even for the best and brightest of lawyers. Take Marcus Tullius Cicero, likely the most famous lawyer in history. Upon being acclaimed for his skills as a lawyer, it is said that Cicero remarked:

“And yet he often desired his friends not to call him orator, but philosopher, because he had made philosophy his business, and had only used rhetoric as an instrument for attaining his objects in public life. But the desire of glory has great power in washing the tinctures of philosophy out of the souls of men, and in imprinting the passions of the common people, by custom and conversation, in the minds of those that take a part in governing them, unless the politician be very careful so to engage in public affairs as to interest himself only in the affairs themselves, but not participate in the passions that are consequent to them.”

– Plutarch, Cicero, Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (c. 75-100 AD), John Dryden translation

Here we have the greatest lawyer in all of Rome, insisting that he wished to be remembered as a philosopher — a thinker — not a lawyer. Being a lawyer was part of who he was; it did not define him….

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Last Sunday, of course, was Mother’s Day. With respect, to my own mother and other mothers, here are some observations on a frustrated Biglaw career….

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Christina Gagnier

Anyone who is a lawyer can relate to the perennial quest to find work-life balance, but this odyssey becomes compounded when you are also the boss. Even though acquiring all of your business, as well as making sure the legal representation you provide is good, determines whether you may be paying your rent in a given month, you have to decide where you draw the line with your clients.

Drawing this line also works to the benefit of your clients, who end up getting more comprehensive and meaningful counsel than through the superficial interaction that not drawing these boundaries may lead to…

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Passover is a time for family. Judaism has holidays galore, but Passover stands unique in its family-centric nature. The highlight of the holiday, the seder (literally “order,” due to the specific program of the evening), is by its very nature a family meal writ large. And on Passover, the definition of family is an expansive one for Jews, with the unfortunate or downtrodden as welcome and entitled to sit at the seder table as one’s immediate relatives. The seder itself commemorates the biblical paschal offering, which was by design intended to be consumed in a communal setting, amongst family.

Just last week, I was speaking to a client about Passover, and despite our differences in both age and observance level, we easily agreed that some of our strongest personal memories are anchored in our childhood seder experiences. In my case, the fact that my childhood seders were fortunate enough to have included my grandparents was a special blessing. Especially since they themselves (together with my parents, who were young children at the time) were forced to flee Egypt as refugees, leaving family and possessions behind. Thankfully, they all ended up (my Dad by way of France, hence my name) in this wonderful free country, where opportunity is open to all who are willing to invest in creating it for themselves. For me, the most fulfilling part of making partner in 2009 was being able to share that recognition with my grandfather, who was in the final stages of a heroic decade-long battle with cancer at the time. His courage in leaving the place of his birth, locked in the bathroom of a passenger ship to Italy to avoid detection, paved the way for our family’s rebirth on these shores. Many have similar stories, and those stories make holidays more meaningful, no matter what holiday is being celebrated.

While I was in Biglaw, holidays presented some of the few opportunities I had for uninterrupted family time. I was always grateful to have worked with people who respected my religious observances, and tried my best to minimize the disruption caused by my unavailability….

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Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts on lateral partner moves from Lateral Link’s team of expert contributors. Katherine Hagman is a Director at Lateral Link where she places associates and partners throughout Chicago and the Midwest. She was a Corporate Recruiter in-house for one of Chicago’s fastest growing companies, and has several years of experience placing attorneys at Chicago law firms and companies. Katherine graduated magna cum laude from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and received her J.D. from Suffolk University Law School in Boston.

“We’re hiring!” it says. While intrigued by the opportunity, you are not really sure if you should consider a job change at the moment. You are happy where you are and so it just doesn’t feel like the “right time.” After all, they are nice to me here. It’s not so bad. It’s probably not any better across the street. Then again, maybe it doesn’t hurt to look. You can’t decide what to do!

While it is good to trust your gut, there are concrete elements that are going to be very valuable for your career trajectory as an attorney. For the sake of this article, let’s assume you are happy in your job and that if you weren’t, you would work on fixing that or move on.

I’ve been working with lawyers on their careers for the past seven years and it can be hard to really put your finger on whether or not you’re at the right place. This can change over time and it’s more or less a moving target.

I’ve created this quiz to help you take the temperature of your current job and to help you see if you need to think about moving somewhere warmer. Keep reading below for a breakdown of each question…

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