Work-Life Balance—Walking the Talk?

“New NY State Bar Head Stresses Importance of Family,” announced a headline in the New York Law Journal last month.

That certainly caught my attention. It’s not too often you read about bar leaders talking about work-life balance—especially male bar leaders. I was impressed. It seems to me that “balance” issues in the legal profession are most frequently raised by women lawyers and rarely by their male counterparts.

However, after reading the entire article, I went from impressed to depressed.

You call this balance?

Why the change in attitude? When reading about the details of the day-to-day life of the NYSBA President, Vincent E. Doyle, III, this caught my attention:

Mr. Doyle estimates that he personally works 60 or 70 hours a week. But he said he is home every Saturday and most Sundays when he can manage it, and he tries to get home in time for supper with the family each evening before putting in a few hours of work from home. He said there are still enough hours in a week to maintain a strong connection with his children and wife, even if he sometimes has to bring his twins with him if he must work weekends. “You have to consciously put it in your plans,” said Mr. Doyle, who credits his wife, Kerry, with helping to make his time with his children quality time.

Works 60 or 70 hours a week? Is at home every Saturday and most Sundays when he can manage it? Tries to get home for supper before putting in a few hours of work from home? Brings his twins to work with him if he must work weekends? Are you kidding me?

With all due respect to Mr. Doyle, who sounds like a great guy, working that schedule hardly makes a statement about the importance of family and work-life balance.

Mr. Doyle may be a devoted father and husband, but unless he is one of those rare individuals who get by on three hours of sleep per night, there are simply not enough hours in a day to spend quality time with your family when you work 60 to 70 hours per week. Do the math.

Now that Mr. Doyle is president of the NYSBA, his 60 to 70 hours could soon become 70 to 80 hours—or even more. I am relatively active in the Minnesota State Bar Association and have known quite a few past presidents (and even coached one). Because of the major time commitment and the stress of juggling bar, practice and family responsibilities, each of these presidents completed his or her term with a huge sigh of relief.

Perfect balance is a delusion

What makes me an expert on work-life balance? Trust me, I’m not. However, I’ve practiced law for almost 30 years and have also coached lawyers for about ten of those years. In addition, I raised three children during that time (now ages 23, 20 and 18).

My attorney coaching clients and I continue to face a wide range of work-life balance issues. We all struggle for balance and we all make choices. Perfect balance is a delusion. There is no such thing. All we can do is strive for a better balance tomorrow than the imperfect balance we have today.

Somehow, I don’t think that’s possible when you work 60 to 70 hours each week.

(photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/racoles/3242458274/)

Legal Careers, Practice Management

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  • http://www.PAinjurycase.com Dave Schreiber

    Balancing time with family is hard – you have to be really organized. If you are really organized at work, perhaps you should not need to be working 70 hrs/week. If you are, then maybe you should consider changing what you are doing in your practice – seriously. Especially if time with your family is important to you. I definitely work a lot but have a wife and two young kids. I was getting called “Daddy Laptop” for a while. I was thinking that if I sat in the room with them while I was on my laptop working that was “quality time”. They reminded me it’s not. I try to put it away until after they are asleep. I certainly don’t know what the answers are, but I’ve personally tried to truly be paying attention to my kids, doing stuff with them, when I am home and they are awake.

  • Mike

    I’ve been following the discussions and debates about work-life balance for a number of years and the only consistent thing has been the hypocrisy.

    Senior lawyers with enough money to last six generations and a car worth more than my house tell me its not about the money. Senior lawyers who missed their kids growing up tell me not to miss my kids growing up.

    Sometimes we hear what we want to hear from the leaders in our profession.

  • http://reallifepractice.com/ Nora Bergman

    I’m with you Roy. There is no such thing as perfect work-life balance. I prefer the term work-life blending. Working at home or from Starbucks or on the weekends is fine, if it’s a conscious choice you’re making. Attorneys have the ability to make some choices about how and when they are going to work. The rub is that if you love what you do – I’m guessing the NYSBA president falls into that category – it can be hard to stop working. While perfect balance may be an illusion, it’s something to continuously strive for.

  • http://www.coyelaw.com Wade Coye

    It’s a little depressing when you say that perfect work-life balance is a delusion (although you make a good point). I think the balance is not perfect, but it comes into play with give and take on a weekly/monthly basis. Really, it’s personal priorities.

    That being said, 60-80 hours a week is an imbalance. Mr. Doyle’s account of his weekly life sounds like fantasy (not for the kids, though…).

  • http://www.totalattorneys.com/ Tiffany

    I have to agree with Wade. “Balance” isn’t always going to look the same, and it’s not going to look the same for every one of us. For some, it might mean knocking off work by 5:30 every day, while for others it might mean balancing out the crunch times with uninterrupted time off. And sometimes what it looks like for an individual will change, too, with the demands of the practice and the age of the children and as many other factors as there are individuals with different life demands and different professional priorities.

  • http://www.raisingthebar.com Robin Hensley

    I just got back from my annual sabbatical–the two weeks I take every year to rest, renew and rethink my business and my life. It’s two weeks I look forward to every year. However, I have to confess that those two weeks aren’t really free of work. In fact, thinking about my work and my life is very hard work indeed.

    Those two weeks gazing at the ocean are exactly what I need to let fresh air and fresh ideas in. The end of those two weeks mark the beginning of the new year for me. I come back charged up and ready to go.

    Now is probably the best time to withdraw and re-energize. If there’s one thing we all need right now is fresh ideas and renewed vitality for the challenges we are facing.

    So, have you thought about slipping away to gather your forces for the future you want to build?