People are always talking about work/life balance at large law firms as if such a thing truly exists. For some associates, it does. They can go out and have a baby, “have a baby,” and do whatever it is they so please in their limited free time. For others, it’s a completely different story. They’re the first ones at the office and the last ones to leave. When they do go home, it’s to look at their family in passing or check their OKCupid accounts with a sigh, sleep for a few hours, take a shower, and put on a different suit. These associates have no lives, and it’s all thanks to their work.
Now, perhaps for the benefit of associates without lives, in the interest of work/life balance, this Biglaw firm is making it possible for its associates and counsel to do even more work than they already do…
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…
‘Out of balance’ is a type of balance, when you think about it.
ATL reader opinion was sharply divided over that recent law firm partner “Hang in There Baby/This Too Shall Pass” email. You’ll recall that the partner was seeking to reassure her younger colleagues who face the challenge of balancing the demands of the Biglaw grind against those of motherhood. Her message: eventually things will be better.
Only a few years ago, when the author was a new mother, she found herself “in the fetal position (ed. note: see what she did there?) on the kitchen floor so completely spent that honest to God I did know how I could get through another day.” Things improved; now the partner can promise her younger counterparts that “one day in the future,” when the kids1 can talk and brush their own teeth, “you will bake a pie and wear clean pants.” In between all-nighters prepping for trial, of course. While some found solace in this message, others found it to be cold comfort at best.
Let’s put aside whether one thinks the partner’s advice is uplifting or risible. For the sake of argument, if the legal profession — specifically law firms — is truly trying to foster the advancement of women attorneys, we can all stipulate that the effort is thus far a failure. What is going on when a fit of despair on the kitchen floor is such a “relatable” thing?
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….
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…
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….
Ed. note: Please welcome Above the Law’s new poet-in-residence, Qui Tam. You can read the rest of his law-related poetry over here.
I realize the title of this column may seem a little incongruous given it is not even published on a Friday, but I hope this week’s efforts are nevertheless relevant for many lawyers, for whom TGIF is pretty much meaningless anyway…
* I include this line not to highlight the horribleness of zoos, but because I’m doing NS today and this contains a fun anecdote about walrus masturbation. [Cracked]
* Meanwhile, on Redline, I’m like, doing stuff. [ATL: Redline]
* “I really want to go to law school to study international law and be a part of solving problems like what’s going on in Crimea right now.” — Dumb idiot who will wish he read Above the Law before he went to law school. [Radio Free Europe]
* Student gets punished for sending a tweet from home. Should it really matter where you are sitting when you hit the button on the tweet calling your principal a “pussy ass bitch”? [It-Lex]
* I think the jurors on the Bernie Madoff co-conspirator case might be running a Ponzi scheme. [Dealbreaker]
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.
Whether you’re fresh off the bar exam or hitting your stride after hanging a shingle a few years ago, one thing’s for certain: independent attorneys who start a solo or small-law practice live with a certain amount of stress.
Non-attorneys would think the stress comes from preparing for a big trial, deposing a hostile witness, or crafting the perfect contract for a picky client.
But that’s nothing compared to the constant, nagging, real-life kind, the kind you get from the day-to-day grind of being a law-abiding attorney.
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Additional information can be located on our website, at www.sgtlaw.com.