Women Lawyers Lives In BalanceIdeas For Managing Personal Lives and Professional Careers


By John W. Olmstead, MBA, Ph.D, CMC

Back in the distant past – 30years ago – I have vividmemories of what law firmsenior partners of that era now callthe “good old days”. These timeswere characterized by:

“The newer generationmay be on to something –lets work smarter and notnecessarily harder.Time is becoming moreimportant to people thanmoney.”

To the dismay of these “good olddays” senior partners times haveindeed changed. Today’s law firmsare saturated with the most diverseworkforce this country has knownsince our great-great grandparentsabandoned field and farm for factoryand office. At no previous time inour history have so many and suchdifferent generations with suchdiversity been asked to work togethershoulder to shoulder, side byside, cubicle to cubicle. Law firmstoday are constituted by:

Today, lawyers from all demographicgroups are realizing the importanceof balancing their personaland professional lives.

Work-Life Balance is the Order ofthe Day

Many old-timers long for the “goodold days” and feel that today’syounger lawyers are not motivatedand dedicated to hard work and thepractice of law. However, it is nowbecoming evident the true extent ofthe damage that has been caused byunbalanced lives. The newer generationmay be on to something – letswork smarter and not necessarilyharder.

Recent ABA surveys and studiesdemonstrate that attorneys arebecoming more and more frustratedby:

Attorneys are experiencing dependencyand other problems such asalcoholism, drug addiction, depression,divorce, and suicide.

According to ABA studies almosthalf of surveyed lawyers feel thatthey do not have enough time forthemselves or their families. Almostthree-quarters of lawyers with childrenreport difficulty balancing professionaland personal demands.The number of women who doubtthe possibility of successfully combiningwork and family has almosttripled over the past two decades.Only a fifth of surveyed lawyers arevery satisfied with the allocation oftime between work and personalneeds. A desire for more time tomeet personal and family needs isone of the major reasons lawyersconsider changing jobs, and it is amore important consideration forwomen than for men.

Our law firm clients tell us that personaland professional life balanceis their greatest challenge. Time isbecoming more important to peoplethan money.

Career Burnout Facts

According to a study conducted bythe National Association of LawPlacement:

Impact On Careers of WomenLawyers

Women attorneys, usually due tochild rearing and other familyresponsibilities, were the first tohave to fight the battle for work-lifebalance and were the first victimsthat experienced battle scars. Thesebattle scars have included:

As a result of this stigma womenquit their lawyer jobs rather thanapply for policies that are on thebooks but considered a “kiss ofdeath” to one’s career.

There Is Hope For Change

While women, have been the initial victims of professionals desiring toimplement work-life balance, othersincluding retiring boomers and generationX and Y males also desirebetter balance in their lives as well.These groups are increasingly takingoff-ramps, scenic routes, andtimeouts. The core problem is thewhite male competitive model andits lack of flexibility. So – in thefuture women may not be fightingthe battle for flexibility alone.

The prime motivator for action inlaw firms may be the coming talentshortage that is rapidly approaching.Law firms will be forced to makethe best use of all of the talent theycan get their hands on.Demographic and other structuralshifts in the workforce will providea sense of urgency for law firms tomake full and proper utilization ofthe lawyer talent pool – includingwomen. As stereotypes and stigmasare removed the following workarrangements will be commonplacein the future and will be used byemployees without fear of punishmentor negative reprisals:

Ideas for Managing PersonalLives and Professional Careers

Firm Level

Firm leadership needs to recognizethe importance of stepping up to theplate and begin creating a sense ofurgency for change. Everyone in thefirm should become a part of theprocess. Here are a few ideas:

IDEA #1: Embed Work-LifeBalance Policies and Practices intothe Firm’s Culture:

  1. Create firm goals and measureaccomplishment.
  2. Top level partners should walkthe talk and demonstrate that thereare no negative stigmas, consequences,etc. for taking advantageof flexible work arrangements.Have a senior level partner participateand use a flexible workarrangement and makes its useknown to all.

IDEA #2: Educate partners inthe firm on the business case forremoving negative stigmas of flexiblework arrangements, improvinglawyer retention, and managinglawyer talent.

IDEA #3: Get buy-in, especiallyfrom top level partners.

IDEA #4: Identify potentialobstacles and deal with them.

IDEA #5: Generate short-termwins and build upon them for futureinitiatives.

Individual Level

Attorneys need to make changes aswell. Here are a few ideas at theindividual level:

IDEA #1: First and foremost -Develop the courage to ask andhave the determination to say no.Create your life balance expectationsfor your clients and your superiorsin the firm. When interviewingfor a new job or position let yourfuture employer know your expectations– upfront.

IDEA #2: Create APersonal/Professional Life Plan.Establishing personal and professionalpriorities and making correctchoices is crucial. You must beginby determining what’s important inlife – make a list of what’s trulyimportant in your life, establishboundaries and priorities, and formulatea plan. Typical elements thatshould be on your list include:

IDEA #3: Use and work yourplan.

IDEA #4: Resist the temptationto go to work for a culture that isnot in support of work-life balanceif that is important to you. Say No.

IDEA #5: If work-life policiesdon’t exist in your firm – build acase for them. Don’t be afraid toask. If they do exist – have thecourage to use them.

IDEA #6: Work smarter – notharder. Improve your time managementskills.

IDEA #7: Tend to your physicalhealth. Insure that you addressprevention and treatment of diseases,weight control, physical fitnessand stress management.Schedule and keep annual physicals.Exercise daily.

IDEA #8: Take time for yourselfand family. Take vacations.

IDEA #9: Define what isimportant to you and define yourpersonal-professional life balanceboundaries.

IDEA #10: Enjoy life and getinvolved in activities other than thepractice of law. Pursue hobbies andother interests.

Remember – the most importantthing you can do is – have thecourage to ask and the determinationto say no.

John W. Olmstead, Jr., MBA, Ph.D., CMC, is a Certified Management Consultant and the president of Olmstead & Associates, LegalManagement Consultants and Life On Balance. Both firms are based in St. Louis, Missouri. Olmstead & Associates helps law and otherprofessional service firms change and reinvent their practices. The firm provides practice management, coaching, marketing, and technologyconsulting services. Their coaching program provides attorneys and staff with one-on-one coaching to help them get “unstuck” andmove forward, reinventing both themselves and their law practices. Life On Balance helps clients improve work-life balance andimprove overall quality of work and life. Work-life coaching, consulting, and speaking services are provided. Founded in 1984, Olmstead& Associates serves clients across the United States ranging in size from 100 professionals to firms with solo practitioners. Dr. Olmsteadis the Editor-in-Chief of “The Lawyers Competitive Edge: The Journal of Law Office Economics and Management,” published by WestGroup. He also serves as a member of the Legal Marketing Association (LMA) Research Committee. Dr. Olmstead may be contacted via e-mailat jolmstead@olmsteadassoc.com.Additional articles and information is availableat the firm’s web site: www.olmsteadassoc.com and www.lifeonbalance.com.

© Olmstead & Associates, 2008.All rights reserved.

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