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 like to say that I went solo because I had no other options — but I chose to stay solo when I started a family.
I started my law firm at the end of 1993 because I’d been downsized for economic reasons and couldn’t find another job. Three years later, the economy picked up and job offers came my way — but I was newly pregnant, and the prospect of the 50-hour work week that one of my prospective employers described didn’t interest me at all. So I figured that at least for the time, I’d remain solo because I was certain that working for myself was the best option for raising children.
Fast forward seventeen years, and my conviction that solo practice is a family-friendly work option is no longer as black and white as it was back then before my daughter was born. That’s not to say that I regret my decision – because I don’t. But here, on the other side of child-rearing — with one daughter in high school and the other on the cusp of college — I’ve realized that there’s really no easy or perfect solution to balancing work and family — whether you’re a solo or a big-firm attorney. All you can do is evaluate the facts and make the best decision for yourself and your family based on the facts in front of you.
Of course, when it comes to research about work-life balance, that’s where things get tricky….
As any practicing lawyer learns within about a week of beginning her career, the concept of the work/life balance is sort of a fiction. Practically speaking, there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to achieve any sort of actual, equal balance between your life and your work. Think about it: assuming you spend at least ten hours at work each day and seven hours asleep, this leaves only seven waking hours to accomplish everything else in your life — feeding yourself, commuting, spending time with your family, brushing your teeth, exercising, reading Above the Law, and pursuing other hobbies, like making crayon drawings for your office.
Although seven hours sounds like a lot of time, we all know that it goes by way too fast. At least for me, after I have taken care of my major life necessities, I only have about an hour left over at the end of my day to enjoy my “life.” Sadly, this time is usually spent complaining about the fact that I have to go to work the next day and do it all over again — is there no rest for the weary???
Ed. note: This is the latest installment of the ATL Interrogatories. This recurring feature will give notable law firm partners an opportunity to share insights and experiences about the legal profession and careers in law, as well as about their firms and themselves.
Paul Steven Singerman is Co-Chair of Berger Singerman and concentrates his practice in troubled loan workouts, insolvency matters, and commercial transactions. Paul is active throughout the United States in large and complex restructuring, insolvency, and bankruptcy cases. Although Paul is best known for his representation of debtors in complex restructuring cases, he is also experienced in representing creditors’ committees, lenders, large unsecured creditors, asset purchasers in § 363 sales and trustees. Much of his work has involved companies with international operations or European or Asian parties-in-interest.
1. What is the greatest challenge to the legal industry over the next 5 years?
Ed. note: Please welcome Elizabeth Adams, who will be covering health and wellness in the legal profession. You can read her full bio at the end of this post.
It’s virtually impossible to get decent advice about whether to go to law school. On the one hand, you have advice from non-lawyers, like your mom, who will promise you that even if you don’t like it, you can do anything with a law degree. On the other hand, you have advice from actual lawyers, who will tell you the exact opposite. I, like many others, made the decision to listen to my mom rather than the many, many practicing attorneys who warned me about the realities of the profession. Although this somehow seemed like a rational choice at the time, I realize, in retrospect, I should have taken the advice of counsel.
It’s true, being a lawyer is hard. Even on a good day it is both extremely boring and highly stressful — a unique combination found in few other jobs. Equally troubling to me, however, is the toll it takes on your body. Indeed, recent studies have shown that sitting as much as lawyers do is bad for the body, and the physical effects of sleep deprivation are well documented and pretty serious. Of course, I don’t need scientific studies to confirm what appears obvious to me on a daily basis. Many lawyers I encounter seem perpetually exhausted and sort of sickly. Some are much worse than that, appearing as if they are in need of urgent medical attention. Lawyers, it seems, are literally dying at their desks…
Ed. note: This is the latest installment in a series of posts from the ATL Career Center’s team of expert contributors. Today, Megan Grandinetti explains how getting a dog helped her leave Biglaw behind.
Are you unhappy as a Biglaw attorney, but terrified to leave the salary, the comfort, and the prestige of Biglaw? Have you ever uttered the phrase, “I would love a dog, but not with my schedule…”? If you answered “yes” to both of these questions, a furry little friend might help you make your transition out of the stressful, awful time-suck that is your job and into something a little more humane.
I was able to leave Biglaw behind, and with the power of hindsight, I realize that adopting my dog was a great first step to walk out the door. Of course this sounds a little crazy, but I’ll tell you a few reasons why getting a dog can help you leave.
Ed. note: Please welcome our newest columnist, Gaston Kroub of Kroub, Silbersher & Kolmykov PLLC, an intellectual property litigation boutique here in New York. He’s writing about leaving a Biglaw partnership to start his own firm.
For some reason, while in Biglaw I always seemed to find myself working late in the office on Christmas Eve. Whether it was getting deposition notices out, or making sure that a brief would be ready for filing right after the turn of the year, there were always more billable hours to crank out (even in those years when I had already made it into the next bonus category as an associate, and was not one of those people volunteering for an end-of-year document review in order to make my hours). Particularly as an associate, the end-of-year was usually a peaceful time, as partners left for their year-end vacations, and normally compressed litigation schedules slackened a bit.
In many ways, Christmas Eve was always one of the most peaceful days of the year in Biglaw. For starters, many of the attorneys and a good percentage of the staff were usually out. And those who showed up for work started to trickle out immediately after lunchtime, with a mass exodus around the time of office closing, usually around 3 p.m. I always enjoyed the four or five hours afterwards immensely, where the normal hustle and bustle of the office got replaced by a more serene atmosphere. I was never one to stay in the office unnecessarily, so when I would finish whatever needed to get done, I too would leave. But there was usually at least one project that needed seeing through, and Christmas Eve afforded the luxury of focusing on getting one thing wrapped up without the usual workplace distractions….
Being in a small firm has repercussions on your existing activities and relationships. Going out, hobbies, spending time with friends and family and the like are often going to have to take a back seat to maintaining your practice. You simply won’t have the time for people that you had in the past. If you aren’t careful, this shift in priorities can cause resentment and ill will.
And despite lawyers complaining that they feel as though they can’t start families, I would imagine that most people do desire to start families or already have a family. Is it hard to balance time spent with family and friends while maintaining and growing a practice? Absolutely. Are you going to be able to have some vague, idyllic “work/life balance”? Nope. But can you have a family and be a lawyer? Of course; it’s ridiculous to suggest otherwise.
It comes with some caveats and difficulties, but it can be done. It’s important that the people in your life understand these difficulties — and it begins with managing expectations….
Ed. note: This is the latest post in our series of ATL infographics — visual representations of our own proprietary data, relevant third-party data, “anecdata,” or just plain jokes.
Elie here. My first “Black Friday” (that’s the Friday after Thanksgiving for those who reject consumerism in all of its forms) while working in Biglaw, I went into the office. My second Black Friday, I went to the therapist. I didn’t make it to my third one.
Thanksgiving is next week, and while you certainly shouldn’t have to work on Thursday, Friday is a different matter. So, we’ve put together this helpful decision matrix to figure out if you actually have to drag yourself into your Biglaw office on Friday… or if you can sleep off your turkey hangover surrounded by your family and/or the escort you paid to make your holiday feel less empty…