“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/)