Work-Life Balance in the New Economic Era

work-life-balanceA small law firm in Des Moines, IA, allows staff to bring their babies to work, a creative solution to the work-life balance problem. However, with the economy in a deep recession and the legal profession reeling from layoffs and structural changes to the law firm business model, is it realistic for lawyers to expect employer assistance in navigating the seemingly competing demands of their personal and professional lives?

Part of the problem is the dichotomy itself—work vs. life. On a fundamental level, choosing to be a lawyer (or any type of employed professional) inevitably means there will always be heavy demand on your time. Without question, the standard billable-hour business model of most law firms creates intense time pressures on lawyers.

In the old days of single-earner families, the strategy of choice was to have a stay-at-home partner to handle the logistics of running the family. The vast majority of families now rely on two (or more) incomes, both for the economic reality and the satisfaction derived from professional work outside the home.

Five years ago, law firms fretted about how they would keep capable lawyers once personal demands ramped up in importance. Now, with a glut of unemployed lawyers, law firms might be able to be more choosy about how to handle this issue.

Or perhaps not. As the economic model of law firms changes with the rise of alternative billing structures to the billable hour, there may be more room for creativity in providing flexibile work arrangements for lawyers. As law firms examine fixed overhead and salary costs, there may be a willingness to provide a wider variety of career options for practicing lawyers beyond the traditional up or out partnership track. (Witness the proliferation of staff attorney and of-counsel positions.)

As technology enables more lawyers to practice effectively on their own or in smaller groups, many will opt out of larger firms altogether and compete for business as solos or small practices. With all the change afoot, there may be a host of out-of-the-box ideas, like the take-your-baby-to-work firm, for lawyers to bring the seeming dichotomies of personal and professional into closer alignment. Remember, change brings opportunity.

Babies on Board | American Lawyer

(photo: furykid)

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  • Lawyers were used to working themselves to the bone to chase six-figure salaries. Firms were more than happy to humor them. Now that the economy is on the skids, everyone would be more receptive to new billing arrangements that lowered the amount of pay but also reduced the number of hours.

  • Keep in mind that those of us who are heavily involved in social media seem to be much more aware of the debate surrounding alternative billing and “creative” lawyering. I recently had the opportunity to speak about value billing with colleagues at two medium-large firms, and they both acted as though they had never heard of it. “We don’t do that here,” was the reply. I still think we have a long way to go.

  • The economy is a great circumstance to support a change in the structure of law practice that in my opinion does not work for anyone including us lawyers. I am not talking just about the billing structure, but also the role of us lawyers.

    In my quest to practice law with collaboration, peace, and respect, I found collaborative law practices. If we attorneys focused on the whole and complete interest of the client, reducing stress, bringing peace to the process, and saving time and money for our clients would be included in the interests of the client and we would serve as wise caring counselors at law. It is a longterm fulfilling job experience.

    So join me in spreading a new way of lawyering. Please share with us more about value billing and creative lawyering.

  • My ontology education at Landmark Forum made me realize how much I like people. i love people and I wanted to make difference in people’s life including my own. My experience during divorce dealing with an abusive powerful man gave me the power to go to the Soutwestern University School of Law to fight an abusive husband who betrayed me during marriage with other women in my trust.
    I am involved in a wise and caring collaborative practice of law and my practice focus through a respectful process giving an opportunity to plan your growth by realizing not to focus on the past.
    Michelle Daneshrad, Esq.
    COMPLETION LAW FIRM