Work-life balance

Last week, I wrote about face time considerations for associates. In Biglaw, face time is important for partners as well, albeit in a different way, with a significant exception for “pure” service partners.

Service partners are like associates when it comes to face time, with one major difference. In contrast to the often large constituency that associates need to please, your typical service partner needs to focus more exclusively on the specific rainmakers who provide them their work. That is why you will frequently find a service partner who is dependent on a particular rainmaker trailing that rainmaker around the office like a faithful Lab trailing a treat-bearing little kid. Or never leaving until the rainmaker leaves for the day. Vacations? Either timed to the rainmaker’s vacation, or planned with the idea that one would be perfectly accessible should the rainmaker call. Most of the time, this behavior by service partners happens naturally. When you have limited sources of work, it is folly not to stay close by those sources on a constant basis.

As important as face time is for senior and mid-level partners, it is even more important for junior partners….

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Shave, get dressed, grab your gadgets (firm-issued Blackberry, personal phone, tablet, etc.,) and head out the door. Car, train, ferry, subway — whatever it takes to get you to the office. Log into your computer, connect your phone for a charge, and head down the hall for a cup of coffee from the pantry. Throw out “good morning” as you pass people along the way. Grab your coffee, sneak a look at the vending machine, decide against starting your day with an 800-calorie cinnamon-glazed “bun,” and head back to your office. Dive into your morning inbox triage, and hope no one bothers you until your first conference call in 30 minutes. Congratulations on making it in for your next day in Biglaw’s Class A splendor.

Eight to fourteen hours later (depending on your seniority, amount of work, and level of domestic tranquility), it is time to pack up. To do it again the next day. You may not be happy with how things are going for you career-wise, and you may get jealous when your tech-sector friends brag about their 5:30 p.m. “after-work” pedicure and pastis-tasting session, but at least you were present at work for the day.

Face time is a concept that has gotten more media attention than it probably deserves. But let’s give it a little more….

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We last spoke about the best law firms for women (in terms of power and pay) in June, and back then, we noted that every few months, a new list or ranking system appears. We were right, because about two months have passed, and now there’s another “best of” list for female attorneys to pore over.

Today, Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers released their annual list of the 50 Best Law Firms for Women. These law firms are considered pioneers in the field when it comes to “attracting, retaining and promoting women lawyers.” These law firms stand out as “family friendly” workplaces, while at the same time ensuring that women shine in their equity partnership ranks.

These law firms are places you might want to work for. Which ones made this year’s cut?

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This week, the legal world has been buzzing over the New Republic’s exposé on the troubles of Biglaw, told through the tale of the long-suffering Mayer Brown. Our managing editor David Lat wondered if being a partner was the worst job in Biglaw, prompting some raised eyebrows. “Yeah, being a partner is so much worse than being an associate,” said a sarcastic commenter.

Sure, being a Biglaw partner right now isn’t “all peaches and cream,” but for most Biglaw associates — female associates especially — it never was. In fact, in our last discussion of the New Republic piece, very little attention was paid to the plight of one Mayer Brown associate in particular: the woman who was laid off during her maternity leave after surviving two prior rounds of layoffs.

The fragile state of the Biglaw world is such that women who dare to do crazy things like get pregnant must worry about whether they’ve put their jobs on the line. But just how bad is it to be pregnant at an Am Law 200 firm? It couldn’t be worse than being a partner, could it?

It could, and it is…

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor is not a fan of the “having it all” concept. As she wrote in her recent (and excellent) memoir, My Beloved World (affiliate link), “having it all, career and family, with no sacrifice to either… is the myth we would do well to abandon, together with the pernicious notion that a woman who chooses one or the other is somehow deficient.”

Even though their panel had the phrase “Having It All” in the title, the participants in an interesting discussion on work/life balance at last week’s big NALP conference would probably agree. One theme that ran through the discussion was that sacrifices, on the work front or home front or both, are inevitable — and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Still, the panel’s emphasis on the need for working parents to rid themselves of guilt didn’t stop some people from shedding a few tears during the discussion….

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No. It’s not. The answer is so easy. Not achievable. I think it’s actually a misrepresentation. Talking about work-life balance is fraud.

Laurel Bellows, President of the American Bar Association, responding to interviewer Julia Williams’s question about whether it’s possible to achieve work/life balance as a female lawyer.

(Keep reading to see additional thoughts from Bellows on women and the law.)

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We’ve all been there. It’s Friday. It’s 5:30 p.m. The rest of the working world is already well into their weekend, their three-day weekend.

But you’re not sure if you can leave. You work in Biglaw, and you don’t know if it’s okay to simply get up from your desk and rejoin the rest of free humanity.

Well, here’s something that can help you. A former Biglaw associate made a handy chart to let you know when it’s okay to leave….

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Last week I spoke with an In-House Insider, a Biglaw refugee turned in-house counsel. You can see what our Insider has to say about the state of Biglaw and client relations here and below.

As with the initial installment, the only changes I made to the Insider’s words were those done to protect their identity, and the Insider was given the opportunity to revise their points once I added the questions and commentary.

Again, I thank the Insider for the candid observations and thoughtful opinions on these core issues. Now, on to the discussion….

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The year is quickly drawing to a close, but we have unfinished business to conduct here at Above the Law. Come on, people, we still have to crown our Lawyer of the Year for 2012.

Thank you to everyone who responded to our call for nominations, in the comments or via email. We’ve narrowed down the nominees to a field of nine (although you’ll see only eight options in the poll because one is a joint nomination). As in past years, the contenders run the gamut from distinguished to despicable.

And the nominees are….

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Many of our readers are busy Biglaw attorneys, and almost as a rite of passage, many of them have come home from work late at night, showered and gotten completely dressed and ready for the next day, and slept in their clothes for a few hours, if only because they knew they wouldn’t have the time or energy to complete their morning routines before returning to the office.

If this sounds like an enjoyable lifestyle, then more power to you. For others, a more relaxing life beckons each and every day, but only some are brave enough to heed its call. When the art of relaxation summoned this corporate lawyer, she listened, and managed to turn it into a successful business opportunity as the founder of Higher Ground Yoga.

If you’re in search of some zen, this stealth lawyer may be able to assist you….

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