JD Hull has a terrific blog called “What About Clients?(tm) ” You can probably guess the focus, and I encourage you to check it out.
A recent post titled WAC?’s Usual ‘Muscle Boutique’ Rant Gains Currency? includes the following:
It’s time for lawyers with the right credentials . . . [to] chuck . . . your work-life balance nonsense (the first 8 to 10 years for associates, and lawyering done right after that, should be hard work even for the gifted) . . . .
Work/life balance isn’t the focus of Hull’s post, but I was struck by his comment because I think it typifies the negative view of work/life balance that I described here, in which “work/life balance” is taken to mean a desire to work less and still reap the rewards of working hard.
We all have some work/life balance. By definition, whether it’s 50/50 or 90/10, there’s a “balance” even if the ratio is markedly uneven. The question then becomes, what does each lawyer want his or her balance to be? What are the lawyer’s priorities and values? As I said in my previously-cited post, work/life balance can never outweigh the need to provide robust, excellent client service. But it’s possible (and necessary) to adjust the balance in whatever direction is most desirable for a particular lawyer and still to provide excellent service. Such an adjustment will lead to certain consequences, whether it’s rapid advancement in career, a deeply satisfying personal life, handsome or sub-optimal earnings, burnout or boredom, or most likely some shifting mix of these and other consequences.
And it’s important to recognize that work/life balance doesn’t necessarily mean working less. Just as there are lawyers who want to work only a 40-hour week, there are lawyers who would hate such a restricted practice, a point that Stephanie West Allen makes vividly in her post Hot Worms and Workaholics: Let the Workers Be! Work/life balance is all about finding what works for each lawyer, whether that’s working a “little” or working a “lot”. The question is what makes for a satisfying life; practice is one component of that for lawyers, but how much of a component will vary from person to person.
I agree with Hull that good lawyering is hard work. There’s no question that practicing law well is demanding. It requires consistently excellent performance with very little margin for error, it’s intellectually rigorous, and it’s tough to keep up with the needs of multiple clients and to work effectively in what often feels like not enough time to do all that needs to be done. And client needs are and must be paramount. Even so, the suggestion to chuck “work/life balance nonsense” doesn’t ring true to me. I’d say instead, chuck the fantasy that practicing law is easy. Look for a way to have a satisfying career and a satisfying personal life, but don’t expect it to be an easy or static path, and don’t expect what works for one lawyer to work for another.