Work/Life Balance:  A Student Concern?

Last week I attended an event at my law school presented by a local
bar association entitled "Why Lawyers Leave: Creating an Environment
for Work/Life Balance to Protect Human Capital and Promote Diversity. "

Work/life balance expert Deborah Epstein Henry (founder of Flex-Time
Lawyers LLC and author of The Cheat Sheet) presented more information
on the "2007 Best Law Firms for Women," her joint project with Working
Mother magazine, which was conveniently featured here on Ms. JD. She
presented some of the statistics she found while researching for the
list, none of which were all too surprising. She also discussed her
latest article, due out in the next week or so, in which she
articulates alternatives to the billable hour structure present in
most large firms. (Stay tuned for more coverage of her article once I
get my hands on a copy.)

In addition to Henry's talk, John Childers from Hildebrandt
International presented findings from a Hildebrandt study on associate
satisfaction at large firms. While he mentioned gender differences in
retention, he also demonstrated that generational differences are now
coming into play more and more, as associates of both genders want
better work/life balance, and as the work/life problem becomes not
just a women's issue.

That said, I was fairly surprised (though I probably shouldn't have
been) at the dearth of men in the sizable audience. The crowd
consisted mostly of female attorneys from big firms, and it was
unclear whether most of them were partners or associates. There was a
smattering of men, some of whom were named as big whigs on the local
Bar Association, and gave an obligatory nod and wave at the start of
the program. However, what shocked me more than this female-dominated
audience was the lack of law students present. There were under ten
students present- no joke. I could not believe that law students, the
very people at whom such resources as Henry's The Cheat Sheet are
directed, could not take out an hour and a half of their time to
attend this very informative presentation. I spoke with Henry after
the program and she voiced the opinion that law students are the
untapped pressure point for firms. We, as law students, have a lot of
power in dictating where the firms will go next in terms of work/life
balance policies, and I was extremely disappointed to see the lack of
interest (if that's the right word...) in using this opportunity to
learn how to induce change.



Dear bethb,
While I can appreciate your "disappointment" at the low turn-out of law students at the "Work/Life Balance" function, I still have trouble undertanding it. Priding myself on being a time management guru, once entering law school this fall, I found that I was continually tweaking my schedule, as I tried establishing a routine yet flexible study regimen. Between the recruiting efforts of student organizations, the alumni welcome receptions, and the faculty welcome receptions, one questioned the veracity of the "keep reading ahead, it's important…stay balanced" mantra.
Finally into a flexible regimen, yours truly, with no dependents and only a few  organizational interests, has no time in the evening to attend functions. My life is reading, briefing, attending organizational functions (during lunch) that pertain to my career objectives, civ pro drills with a study buddy, working out and socializing once every couple of weeks. Perhaps your comments were directed at 2/3Ls. However, my guess is that, outside of studying, they are trying to find job or are already working. My 3L mentor and the 2Ls I know are working smarter than us 1Ls, but they are also working more in terms of clinical and organizational work.
Moreover, my understanding is that unless one is searching for employment outside of a firm, 80-110 hour work-weeks is the norm for associates. (It seems to be just a little bit less for ambitious law students.) Of course, I believe that we can create fabulous opportunities for ourselves that eventually yield a certain amount of balance, but there's still the learning curve. Add to that the relationship-building with colleagues and courts, in addition to the relationship-sustaining with loved ones, and balance becomes a lofty goal. Now, by no means am I saying that achieving a work/life balance is impossible, I'm just saying that the reality for most law students and associates is that there will be no balance for several years at the least.
One of my legal heroines is a principal in her own firm, an ABA award-winner, a mother and a spouse, and her stories contain a plethora of tales about sacrifice and family understanding and support. Most successful law students and lawyers lead imbalanced lives naturally because we want to do as much as possible and do it at a level of excellence. You can't excel at that level without being imbalanced at some point and for a while. It's the nature of the beast, so-to-speak.

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