Susan Smith Blakely

Women Lawyers Are Working More Hours Than Their Male Colleagues

There is a new study from the Harvard Law School's Center on the Legal Profession that reports, among other things, that women lawyers are working more hours than their male colleagues.  The survey is limited to Harvard Law grads from the years 1975, 1985, 1995 and 2000, and the conclusions may or may not match your experiences.  The study shows that women outpaced men in all four classes, with women in the class of 2000 working nearly eight hours more per week.

The report on the study seems to acknowledge that the data indicating that women lawyers work more hours than their male colleagues may mean two different things.  It either means that the women lawyers are working efficiently and need to work the additional hours to get the job done or it may mean that women lawyers are falling victim to the perfectionist habits that can plague women in the profession.  One interpretation is good, and one is not so good.

Let's start with how the report described the disparity in number of hours worked by female and male lawyers:

[O]ne important distinction is that [the study] does not show the number of hours billed, which need to be approved by a manager and necessarily requires assessing the value of a lawyer’s work.

There's the rub.  Hours worked versus hours billed.  Although it is admirable to work very hard to produce an excellent product, women lawyers tend toward perfectionism, and that can be costly in the law profession.  If the perfectionism is interpreted as inefficiency by management, the hours get slashed for the purposes of billing.  I do not have to tell you that billable hours rule the day for most lawyers and, especially, for associates.  So, that slashing sound is something you want to avoid.

For more on the subject of the downfalls of perfectionism, take a look at this blog for discussion of the negative role that perfectionism can play in both your personal and professional lives and a follow-up blog to drive the message home.  It is not the gift that keeps on giving!  Far from it.

Also see "The Perfectionist Trap" in Chapter 8 of my new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, which is due out in July.

To read more on the results of the Harvard Law study, see this link.


Susan Smith Blakely is the Founder of LegalPerspectives LLC and an award-winning, nationally-recognized author, speaker and consultant on issues related to young women lawyers, young women law students and young women interested in careers in the law.  She is author of Best Friends at the Bar:  What Women Need to Know about a Career in the Law (Wolters Kluwer/Aspen Publishers 2009), and Best Friends at the Bar:  The New Balance for Today's Woman Lawyer (Wolters Kluwer Law & Business 2012), which addresses the work-life struggle for women lawyers and includes twelve profiles of women who have successfully transitioned from one practice setting to another.  Her new book, Best Friends at the Bar:  Top-Down Leadership for Women Lawyers, will focus on the responsibilities of law firm leaders and will be released by Wolters Kluwer Law & Business in 2015.

Ms. Blakely frequently speaks at colleges and universities, law schools, law firms and law organizations, and she has been featured in media including the LA Daily Journal, National Jurist, Washington Examiner Newspaper, Forbes Woman, DC Spotlight, Daily Muse and Huffington Post Business.  Ms. Blakely also is a frequent guest speaker and panelist at conferences on women's issues and the law profession, and she has been a featured speaker at the US Department of Justice, Civil Division.  She is the recipient of the Ms. JD 2015 "Sharing Her Passion Award" for her work on behalf of women in the law.
Ms. Blakely graduated from the University of Wisconsin with distinction and from Georgetown University Law Center where she was a teaching fellow. She is a member of the CoachSource global network of leadership coaches and a career coach for the Indiana University Marshall Goldsmith Leadership Development and Executive Coaching Academy.   For more information, please visit www.bestfriendsatthebar.com. 

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