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….
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….
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.