Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Work-life balance - the employer's perspective

These days, newly minted law grads looking for a job are more nervous and anxious than a horny toad stuck on a Texas freeway with its hopper busted.  It can be downright scary. 

That's because the pendulum has swung to the right big time and employers now hold all the cards.  You may not agree with it - or perhaps you do - but this post (circa 2006) from the blog What About Clients reflects - in rather brusque terms - what many (if not most) employers may think today:

Work-life balance is still a dumb-ass issue.

1. Practicing law is difficult and demanding--even for brilliant, diligent, ambitious and accomplished people. We've said this before. No big deal.

2. If you wanted just a job, you got into the wrong line of work.

3. Someone has done you a disservice if you believe employers exist to serve you--and to make you happy. We exist for customers and clients. We will train you--and work very hard to do that.

4. But "work-life" balance is "your" problem--not our firm's or mine. Each one of us creates our quality of life as we learn to be lawyers, develop standards, hold hard to those standards every day, and attend to the main event: clients.

5. If you are a job-hunting student or young lawyer expecting our firm to support a regime of work-life harmony, please try another shop. That is always your problem. We are happy and well-rounded people who work our asses off. However, people twice as smart and as hardworking as you paid huge dues to be able to call himself or herself a "lawyer". Please go away.

Color us Midwestern. It's privilege to work. It's a privilege to practice law.

Hat tip to Above the Law.

I am the scholarship dude.


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Maybe the conventional hostility to labor unions will lessen and even turn around. There's no better reason for unions than employers' attitude that work-life balance is purely the employees' problem.

Posted by: peter | Jul 22, 2009 6:02:02 PM

My guess is that a lot of these grads will take their law degrees and work them into other careers (or abandon them altogether) before they'll give up work-life balance.

Posted by: Tracy McGaugh | Jul 22, 2009 7:36:52 PM

"We are happy and well-rounded people who work our asses off."

Could anyone who is intelligent or hard-working not catch the irony here? Now I'm wondering if the entire post is satire.

Well, I better get back to work being a lawyer, where my firm hates everything about me except my billable hours. ;P

Posted by: Ted | Jul 23, 2009 8:28:18 AM

I like what Tracy said--and I hope it's true.

Thanks for the mention. Appreciated. What's strange to my firm and me is that 10 years ago, maybe 15, the content in our post wasn't noteworthy at all; it was just status quo. Normal life. No big deal. No one had to say it.

Our take:

1. You want WLB? Then work hard, think it all through, and reach out and just take it--as so many people have down through history. You can have it in any career.

2. But don't ask for it--whether or not "there's a Recession goin' on". You are simply not entitled to it.

3. Customers and clients are first. Firm is second. And then you, the employee, are third.

4. Smart, talented, and disciplined workers worth keeping will always make their own work-life balance.

Posted by: Dan Hull | Jul 23, 2009 3:39:33 PM

PS "...swung to the right"? Is that to say hard work, achieving things and self-respect is now a "political issue"? Please tell me I misread that in your intro. Or are those things just no longer "PC"? I don't get it.

With a couple of exceptions, I've voted Dem my entire life, and raised $ for mainstream Dem presidential candidates every four years, and still serve on Dem. boards. Does politics matter? Liberals, conservatives, moderates, Rs, Ds, academics, practicing lawyers, writers, business execs, plumbers, blue-collars, Brits, Yanks, and Everyone--do they not ALL value working hard with like-minded people, building worthwhile things and delivering worthwhile services?

Posted by: Dan Hull | Jul 23, 2009 3:57:34 PM

The What About Clients post might have more credibility were it not for the fact that much, if not most, of the current partners in US firms came up through a system that required far less than 2000 billable hours per year. Just sayin'

Posted by: Michael Cedrone | Jul 23, 2009 7:40:42 PM

Michael: Even in DC 20 years ago associates (people in their fifties now) worked more than 2000 hours a year to make partner. Ask around. At my old firm, there was no requirement--but people averaged between 2000 and 2200. No none was offended by it. Everyone learned a lot. And no one got divorced, went into therapy, or required a trip to Tibet or India. If you want WLB in the first few years, just take it--or go some place else.

The 2006 post? It was provocative and angry because we were growing tired of seeing clerks and first years who had no idea how to practice law, no idea how to simply "work", no idea that the law might be taxing, and no idea that solving problems for clients presented ambiguities you can't always just Google to "get the answer". Three years later, it's worse. Maybe law school should be shortened to 3 semesters? Because something, currently, is broken. Your thoughts? I'd be fascinated. And I am looking for panelists on legal education reform for a two-day conference (fairly well known) in Chicago next May.

Posted by: Dan Hull | Jul 24, 2009 10:26:32 AM

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