Work/life balance

‘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?

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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: 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…

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* 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]

* Everyone is overwhelmed, apparently. [Going Concern]

* Scalia apparently comes up with his s**t while dozing off to sleep. So, literally now, Scalia’s dreams are the stuff of my nightmares. [Military.com]

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….

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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???

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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?

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