A 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