By Susie Lloyd • April 05, 2017•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Other Career Issues, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Other Law School Issues, Issues, •Balancing Private and Professional Life, Features, Superwomen JDs and What You Can Learn From Them
Work-life balance. Flex-Time. Part-Time. All three terms are ones regularly heard on the lips of students, faculty, and practicing attorneys. These terms make older generations wince, while younger students and associates seek jobs with descriptions matching one or all three. Many at Ms. JD have discussed these issues: Lori Johnson wrote of her struggle with baby boomers in her office not understanding the importance of choosing family or personal time over billable hours. Ally Kennedy Garcia, Founder of the Association of Mother Immigration Attorneys, posted a worksheet with helpful tips to consider while attempting to build work-life balance into a busy schedule. Many others on the blog discuss their struggles with finding a balance, either as a student or a parent or a full-time employee of a major firm. When we discuss these concepts, we find the terms applied most commonly to women or when discussing the problem with millenials. But why are questions in an interview regarding these topics considered dangerous territory? Why are students discouraged from emphasizing their own needs during law school discussions on how to find a job?
In 2015, new law school graduates were hired at fewer private firms than any class in two decades. It is well known that higher pay is offered at private firms (versus public interest, nonprofit, government), and it is at private firms where many law students see themselves following graduation. With increasing tuition costs hitting the $120K mark for a private three year institution, many students follow the money, hoping it will yield the practice, salary, and balance they are seeking. But smaller private firms are pushing back, looking to hire lateral associates who do not require training and are ready to jump in head first. In data from the New York Bar Association from 2011, it costs approximately $500-$700K to train and employ a recent grad for three years. But, I am not telling you something you don't already know. Fewer students are enrolling in school without having at least some understanding of the difficulties faced upon graduation.
With this said, I find that my peers fear raising the topics of flex-time, part-time, or work-life balance to potential employers. We are advised by school deans and career service officers to delicately approach the topic and only if we absolutely feel compelled to do so. And establishing such a pessimistic outlook, I too fear that any questions pertaining to the firm's culture will reveal my true motive: I want to work hard, but I also want to go home and see my husband before the sun sets.
As a part-time student with several years of work experience behind me, I struggle with this question. I am eager to enter full-time employment following law school, but I am not willing to put off the rest of my life in order to work at a high paying job. My husband hardly sees me. I work either at my office or can be found at school until 9 or 10 p.m. every night of the week. We schedule Friday night dates far in advance because if we don't, I feel compelled to set up a networking meeting or study session. Yet, I believe I have a better understanding of the reality of "flex-time" more than some. I began working flex hours at my firm last year, after resigning from my job as a paralegal where I was working a restrictive 9-5, 40 hours a week. My supervising attorney and I reached an agreement that I could work reduced hours with greater flexibility as a law clerk; however, a year in, I am working more hours than I was as a paralegal and taking more classes than I did as a 1LE. Finding balance and working flex hours have not yielded the freedom I hoped. Instead of setting time aside on the weekends to "normalize", I fill my time with more activities, hoping it will push me closer to the job offer I want and sweeten my resume with impressive categories like "Awards" and "Activities". I struggle with these concepts and I hope to find a solution that will not bar me from a high paying job at a firm where I am happy.
Next month, I will continue this discussion, specifically examining the tendency of firms to punish women as we seek our own definition of balance.