Top firms for women or leaving the law: it’s all about perceived satisfaction

As announced in a flurry of law firm press releases yesterday, Working Mother Magazine and Flex-Time Lawyers LLC have announced the top 50 firms for women, as measured through “groundbreaking programs to help women strike a better work/life balance and climb to the top” and “implementing penalty-free flex schedules and mentoring, networking and leadership programs.”  Large firms are heavily represented, and I’m curious whether that reflects their success with these programs or whether it reflects the presence of the programs.  Would a smaller firm that promotes work/life balance as a matter of course but doesn’t feature woman-friendly programs come out well on the survey?  This inquiring mind is curious.

Meanwhile, a recent article in Toronto Life magazine describes one lawyer’s exit from the practice and touches on the variety of issues that lead lawyers to choose new careers.  Replace the names of top Canadian firms with American firms, and it becomes clear that the problems so many identify are a cross-border phenomenon.  The author paints a rather bleak picture of the profession, laying the blame on “the crush of billable hours and the constantly buzzing BlackBerry,” which have in turn destroyed intellectualism, civility, mentoring, and work/life balance.  It’s a painful (but important) article to read.

Are lawyers unhappy?  Sure, some are.  And some aren’t.  Before deciding anything about the state of the profession (or the morale of its lawyers) it’s important to step back and ask what’s behind the pain and the pleasure of practice.  What do you expect to see when you think about practicing law?  Or, to put it another way, what happens when you remove the rose- or smoke-colored glasses?

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