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Work-Life Balance: So Last August?

Ah, the heady days of a year ago. It was a time when lawyers believed they could have it all -- economic success and a personal life to boot. A lot has changed in the intervening year, little for the better. With the economy still in the tank and many law firms still struggling, has the legal profession lost sight of its quest for that elusive prize, work-life balance?

At Adam Smith, Esq., fellow blogger Bruce MacEwen recently bemoaned its disappearance. "Among the phrases, and phenomena, that now seem so hopelessly 'last August' is that of the fabled Work-Life Balance." Within the legal profession, MacEwen believes, work-life balance "waxes and wanes in synch with demand and supply in the lawyer talent market." More importantly, he suggests, the highest performing firms, the cream of the global crop, will never be lifestyle firms. High performance and work-life balance are simply incompatible, he contends.

Having shown his cards on the question, MacEwen put it to his readers, in the form of a poll. Now he has posted the results of that poll. Out of 170 votes, here is how they tallied on the question, "Work-life balance is":

  • Flatly incompatible with firms performing at the highest level, 39 votes.
  • Compatible with high performance if it helps retain talent, 29 votes.
  • So last August, 26 votes.
  • Achievable in firms of all stripes given flexibility, 20 votes.
  • A useful notion only in the "lifestyle" cohort of firms, 15 votes.
  • An indulgence affordable to firms only in times of high lawyer demand, 14 votes.
  • A weak accommodation to lawyers who aren't serious, 10 votes.
  • A humane and "evergreen" virtue responsive to reality, 9 votes.
  • A disservice to high-performing professionals, 8 votes.

If you categorize these votes as representing positive or negative views of work-life balance, they add up to 112 negative and 58 positive, "or nearly a 2:1 ratio of negative to positive views," MacEwen calculates. That would seem to substantiate MacEwen's opening observation that work-life balance, like so many things lawyers once believed in, is so last August.

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on September 3, 2009 at 03:15 PM | Permalink | Comments (4)


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