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Work-Life Balance and Space-Time Continuum

Denise Howell inaugurates her new column in The American Lawyer with some time travel worthy of "Back to the Future." The author of the long-standing legal blog Bag and Baggage begins her piece in the Pleistocene Era -- 1989 to be exact -- when as a graduating law student courted by four top law firms, she chose the one that went on record as giving greater weight to the "life" side of the work-life balance scale. It asked for "only" 1,800 billable hours a year, when the others expected anywhere from 1,900 to 2,500.

By the end of the column, she travels even farther back in time, first to the 1970s, when her law-firm-partner dad took most of each August off to spend with his family and had time for trips throughout the year, and then to 1963, when the American Bar Association quaintly considered 1,300 billable hours to be full time.

In between her time travels, she spends some time in the here and now, considering the state of work-life balance in law firms today. While most firms pay lip service to the concept, Howell writes, many remain "machinelike organizations that grind billables out of associates like Oscar Mayer grinds meat into hot dogs." The result is high attrition rates among associates and an increasingly scarce pool of fresh meat to replace them.

Perhaps the law firms of today have something to learn from the firms of a generation ago, Howell suggests. "This Kennedy-era approach and my dad's insistence on being a dad seem far more suited to the mind-set of the twenty-first century legal workforce than today's firms have yet to recognize."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on April 7, 2008 at 07:13 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

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