By Anna Johansson • March 03, 2018•Careers
One of the hardest parts of being a lawyer is that you’re expected to work long hours, and while this stress has historically weighed heavier on women who are still viewed as primary caregivers, the tide is starting to turn. By fighting for greater flexibility and sustained work-life balance, female lawyers have made the law a more sustainable career path for everyone.
Overworked By The Billable Hour
Lawyers are chronically overworked as they try to maximize their billable hours, but that doesn’t mean every lawyer wants to work until they drop. Rather, in order to avoid functioning on overdrive, many lawyers have opted to give up the salary perks and prestige of Big Law and transfer to small firms or opt for a lower intensity legal specialty such as copyright or real estate law.
Of course, there’s no such thing as a low-intensity legal career, but historically the most family-friendly paths are those with more reliable court schedules. Real estate lawyers, for example, might handle multiple property closings a day but are less likely to face emergency circumstances than a criminal or corporate lawyer.
Another way women have tried to attain work-life balance over the years, despite the intensity of the field, is by choosing specialties that center the family such as education law. It can be hard to settle in at home after a day spent settling other people’s divorces, but if you’ve worked to help a family get their child’s education needs met or, as a residential real estate agent, helped a couple buy their first home, then coming home to one’s own family can be a reminder of what you fight for as a lawyer – why you do what you do.
Full-Time Flex Time
Trying to gain some career flexibility via specialization is an option, but it’s not a very good one, which is why women lawyers have been trying to transform workplace standards for years now; we’re finally gaining traction, and everyone is benefitting. One version of this is the implementation of full-time flex in which any lawyer at a firm can work part-time, some of the time. As type-A personalities, most lawyers don’t want a lax schedule; we couldn’t function working part-time. But we do want to be able to attend school events, eat dinner with our families, or go on vacation without being considered lesser lawyers.
Men, on the other hand, have also come to see more flexible schedules as a boon for many reasons. First, it offers them an opportunity to participate in child rearing and family life, which is not just expected today but also something many men enjoy. Additionally, it offers them a chance to start side businesses, pursue hobbies, and do volunteer work. After decades in which lawyers have been expected to give up everything they loved to practice law, all lawyers are being offered a chance to take those things back.
Women carried the bulk of the burden of fighting for flexible scheduling, but as companies and workers come to recognize the mental health and performance benefits of work-life balance, the concept has grown in popularity. Pushing ourselves to the limits isn’t always best for us, our families, or our clients. By taking on the worst parts of the billable hour, we’ve made the law a real dream job.