Work/life balance

Last week’s column was not intended for a particular group, other than those who enter the world of Biglaw and then wonder what has become of their work/life balance. Some accused me of whining. If that is how you comprehended my message, it speaks to a lack of either comprehension on your part, or writing talent on my part. I was not complaining, I was preaching — or trying to preach. I receive so many letters from young (inexperienced) attorneys and law students asking me about the mythical work/life balance that I took the opportunity to blow off some steam in an attempt to speak truth. I feel that I may not have been thorough, and want to further elucidate (bloviate).

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Would you go to work as a deep-sea welder and then complain that you don’t get home enough? Or how about an over-the-road truck driver? Or a fireperson(?) who works three on/three off shifts? No, you wouldn’t. And who would be so dim, right? People going into those jobs know the requirements up front, and still choose them. They don’t later bitch and moan that what they lack is a fireman’s committee that will present grievances to the higher-ups – and they especially don’t complain about this falsehood called work-life balance.

At my last firm, there was just such an “Associate’s Committee,” and they put together a manifesto of sorts that they presented to the partnership. And you know what? Not a damned thing changed, except the partners got angry. And I was angry. It was embarrassing to me that I would be viewed by some partners as actually agreeing to that tripe. I knew what I was in for when I signed on for firm life so very long ago. Don’t get me wrong, I am not taking the tack of a codger lecturing to newbie “why, in my day…” To the contrary, I am speechifying that if you find yourself in a position at a law firm in which you are unhappy, it is likely your own damn fault.

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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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Just a typical lapsed lawyer (J.D., Northwestern ’68)

Lawyers turn into ex-lawyers for a host of reasons. The transition can be voluntary or not. We all know that erstwhile attorneys have successfully gone on to become, among thousands of other things, consultants, teachers, writers, and entrepreneurs. Late last year, in partnership with our friends at Adam Smith Esq., we reached out to lapsed lawyers to ask them their personal stories. Why did they choose the law in the first place? Why did they leave? What are they up to now? Do they regret leaving the practice of law? (A whopping 93% said “no” to that last question.)

We were quite pleased with the level of response to our survey: 430 former (or “recovering”) lawyers shared their stories with us. The tales they told us bring to mind a sort of inversion of Tolstoy’s line about happy and unhappy families. Those who were positive about their time spent practicing had a diverse range of experiences; those who were unhappy mostly tell the same story.

Read on for the details.

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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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It’s the last day of December, so it’s a good time to look back on the year that was. We’ll do what we’ve done for the past three years (wrap-up posts from 2009, 2010, and 2011 can be found here, here, and here) and identify the ten biggest stories of the past year as decided by you, our readers. With the help of Google Analytics, we’ve compiled a list of our top ten posts for 2012, based on traffic (as represented by pageviews).

By the way, for the third year in a row, the most popular category page on Above the Law was Law Schools. People have now been intensely focused on the declining value proposition of going to law school for as long as it takes to earn a Juris Doctor degree. Isn’t it time that we graduate from the current educational model?

The second and third most-popular categories on ATL in 2012 were Biglaw and Bonuses. Although this year brought us the largest law firm failure ever, nearly all other firms indiscriminately doled out offers to summer associates, and bonus season looked better for the first time in years. While the legal profession is still in transition, things are certainly looking up, and through the highs and the lows, we’ve been there to cover it all.

So what were the ten most popular individual posts at Above the Law in 2012? Let’s find out….

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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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* As an in-house compliance officer, there’s only one guarantee: you’ll be paid, and you’ll be paid quite well — we’re talking like six-figure salaries here. Regulatory corporate compliance, on the other hand, isn’t such a surefire thing. [WSJ Law Blog (sub. req.)]

* When it comes to employment data, this law dean claims that using full-time, long-term positions where bar passage is required as a standard to measure success in the employment market is “grossly misleading.” Uhh, come on, seriously? [Am Law Daily]

* “Bar passes and jobs are inextricably tied,” but eight of New York’s 15 law schools had lower bar passage rates than last year for the July exam. Guess which school came in dead last place. [New York Law Journal]

* You know, it may actually be a good thing for a monk to apply to law school right now. It can’t get much worse; after all, the guy’s already taken a vow of poverty. [Law Admissions Lowdown / U.S. News & World Report]

* Dominique Strauss-Kahn officially settled the sexual assault civil lawsuit that was filed against him by Nafissatou Diallo. Given that she thanked “everybody all over the world,” it was probably a nice payout. [CNN]

* Steven Keeva, a pioneer in work/life balance publications for lawyers, RIP. [ABA Journal]

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