In the July/August 2005 issue of Diversity & the Bar®, the article titled "The Work/Life Challenge: Not Just a Women's Issue, Part 1" discussed strategies male attorneys use to find balance. In this month's issue, we examine additional ways male attorneys juggle multiple responsibilities and explore possible long-term solutions.
The lack of work/life balance can have a tremendous effect on an attorney's career path, job satisfaction, and loyalty to a firm. While traditionally women have sought a work/life balance to raise their families, society today places more expectation on men's participation in child rearing, caring for elderly parents, and being active in the community.
Is it possible to balance the demands of a legal career-and its ever-present push for billable hours—with a home and social life? Would long—term changes in the way law firms operate create a balanced life for associates and partners, as well as produce more productive and engaged attorneys?
"The biggest work/life challenge for me is balancing the goals of wanting to be partner with the demands of being the primary person responsible for my older parents as well as assisting my partner with the care of his parents," says Stuart Brock, an associate with Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, PLLC. "My mother has been disabled almost all of my life and [my partner] Rob's mom and dad are aging. Everything is about scheduling. I make them a priority as I do any of my clients or any of my other needs that I have. Because I'm involved in litigation, you can't always control your calendar, so juggling these things around can be quite a problem." Brock says he uses many services, such as online prescriptions and contracted maintenance, to ensure that his parents are not concerned with those matters.
"I keep a calendar of all my mother's physician appointments; I'm copied with all her lab work and her doctor's appointment notes so I know what's going on," says Brock, who conveyed his firm supports him both informally and formally. "Informal are the day-to-day things. Recently, Rob's mother had a stroke and I felt I needed to be there and my boss said, 'Go,' took over what I was doing, and I was at the hospital in an hour and a half. With regard to the more formal way, we have mentoring and professional development programs that help us with work/life balances, setting priorities, and helping with scheduling issues. I think having those programs and having the supervising attorneys walk the walk and not just talk makes it easier for all of us."
While Brock is working toward becoming a partner, other attorneys seeking work/life balance have abandoned the traditional model. "Some attorneys are opting not to take the partnership track because it's such a long road and it's so uncertain," says Phillip Shinn, an attorney at Thornton, Taylor, Becker & Shinn and an executive board member of the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association. "Once you make partner, it's just half the battle. Staying partner is sometimes more difficult, because once you are a partner, you're responsible for bringing in new clients, and that adds a huge burden to your life. Some attorneys with children become of-counsel so they can work as few or as many hours as they need. Of-counsel is essentially an independent contractor. They're not on the partnership track; they're not associates on the way to partnership. Of-counsel would want to make a comfortable living but would want to have a balance in life."
Lauren Stiller Rikleen, senior partner at the Massachusetts law firm of Bowditch & Dewey, LLP, and newly appointed member of the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on the Status of Women, is completing a book about the institutional impediments to the retention and promotion of women attorneys. "I have found through my research that work/life balance issues are shared by men who are desperately trying to figure out how to be involved fathers in a profession that is extraordinarily demanding," says Rikleen. "This is not about attending the school play or the major events. This is about you and your family's life and raising healthy children. You can't raise healthy children by showing up every once in a while when something big happens. People want to be involved in their children's day-to-day life in a way that's meaningful."
Rikleen's experience with these issues includes her creation of a task force addressing work/life balance issues when she was president of the Boston Bar Association.
A Change of Locales Balances One Attorney
Boris Gaviria, an associate litigator at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, has sole custody of his six-year-old son. Gaviria moved over 2000 miles to achieve a better work/life balance. "I practiced law in Chicago and moved to Seattle," says Gaviria, who is active in the Latino Bar Association. "Generally speaking, in Seattle there's more respect if you have family obligations and responsibilities that are a part of your life, whereas sometimes in Chicago, if you were able to see your family when you were an associate, that would be considered an exception. I didn't change my career track so much as changing to a city and a culture that was more conducive to having a better balance."
-Lauren Stiller Rikleen
Gaviria shares responsibilities with his significant other, who has two children. "She works full time, but has a flexible schedule," explains Gaviria. "We take turns, so if someone has to be taken to a soccer practice, we'll make adjustments. I also intentionally live very close to my office, because working 10 minutes from home makes it very flexible. Davis Wright has us well equipped to telecommute. That's been a real positive and I've been able to put my son to bed and return to work. It's not a perfect system, but having a BlackBerry, telephones, and remote access makes it a far easier process. Then again, in my previous practice, the expectation was for greater face time. It seems that here people have a little more flexibility and it's not unusual for people to be telecommuting and working in the evening."
How does his firm encourage work/life balance? "The firm has a team-based approach, where you work with other attorneys when possible, which allows you greater flexibility. I'm upfront with my colleagues that I can travel but need advance notice, and if there are other team members who can travel in my stead, the firm is very good about working with my needs."
Gaviria is a hands-on father. "Sometimes there is more of an expectation that a mother is going to handle life events…that it's always going to be the mother who takes the child to the doctor or to the parent-teacher conference. In the long term, I think it would be a helpful change, culturally, if that were not an automatic assumption. There have been several times at play dates or at the doctor's office where I'm the only one who's a dad as opposed to mom. I don't know if that's going to happen in the next few years, although I think fathers are increasingly taking responsibility and attending these events."
"I think in a perfect world, having more flexibility for both parents as far as taking institutionalized leave would help with balance issues. Oftentimes, when your child is born and you're not the person staying home, you don't take that leave. It would be helpful if there was more of an expectation that you're going to take the time off."
Are Part-Time Lawyers Team Players?
Is Gaviria's idea for taking time off a realistic one? Rikleen says there's a perception that attorneys taking paternity leave or working a reduced schedule aren't viewed as team players. "I've interviewed many lawyers over the past several years, and they all can point to a policy that exists in the firm that allows for reduced hours or maternity and paternity leaves. But they still feel that they're devalued when they take advantage of them. Particularly when they work on a reduced-hours basis, the quality of their assignments change, the way in which people interact with them changes, and it has an impact on their career path. I've had many women say to me that the problem of work/family balance in a law firm will be solved when more men are comfortable taking paternity leave and working a reduced-hours schedule. Until that happens, they're less optimistic that the culture of the firm will change in a way that's meaningful," Rikleen concludes.
While there is a paucity of data surrounding men seeking reduced hours, a study by the Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts,1 as reported by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Workplace Center, supports Rikleen's findings. According to the study, over 90-percent of major Boston firms offered a part-time or reduced-hours option; less than five percent of associates and less than two percent of partners took advantage of it. Furthermore, one-third of those who used it (and an equal number who did not) believed that it hurt the careers of those using this option because they were perceived as being less committed to either the firm or their profession than those who continued to work full-time, long hours. The biggest barrier to use reported in both surveys and focus groups of lawyers was the stigma attached to breaking the norms of the profession.2
Do these findings apply to men? Mona Harrington, program director of the MIT Workplace Center and author of Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics,3 believes, "Most markers of work/family experience differ for men and women. But when individual men adopt primary responsibility for families and make work decisions based on family need—leaves, part-time, non-fast-track positions—the consequences are often the same for them as for women."
Jason Murray, a shareholder in Carlton Fields, P.A., who is involved in general commercial litigation in state and federal courts, feels part- and full-time workers are treated equally at his firm. "I don't think there's a different perception. If you decide as an associate to get on an alternative work schedule, you've extended the amount of time to become a shareholder, in terms of skills and experience and time before moving up to the next level. If you're working 75 percent of the time, it's going to take that much longer to go to the next level. We've had associates on alternative work schedules who've gone on to be partners and partners who are on alternative work schedules. They're great contributors, high performers, and producers at the firm."
He understands the frustration of establishing a work/life balance. "I've blocked out Sundays and I call them my faith and family days. That's the day that the family is going to church; after service, we get together for dinner. Unless I have some major emergency or something that takes me out of town, I try not to schedule anything else, so my family has my full attention on that day."
Murray believes involvement in civic and professional activities is also important to balance. "I've had to cut things out of my life. I remember how busy I was when I was president of the Black Lawyers Association in Miami Dade County. You have to prioritize. There are certain times you carve out, the way I carved out my Sundays. A lot of the older members of firms went to work and worked the crazy hours to build their career and [believed] those sacrifices were necessary to get to a level in their career. A lot of the younger generation says yes, I have to sacrifice, but I'm not willing to sacrifice my family, so they're trying to find ways to merge the two worlds. The more you can incorporate the family into that juggle, you can still have the career and be active in the community."
The Billable Hours Dilemma
Rikleen's research points to high billable-hour demands as the largest obstacle faced by attorneys and their firms in striking a work/life balance. "Part of what I'm trying to do is ask: How can firms literally change their culture? How can management create an entirely new way of having their attorneys work together and think more institutionally than individually?" says Rikleen. "Changing the billable hours concept is critical to making this shift. Client pressure would help a great deal. However, in some respects, I think clients take steps that, in trying to solve the problem, do exactly the opposite. A number of lawyers interviewed spoke of large institutional clients who are seeking to monitor their bills more closely. The client is saying: 'If you did multiple tasks on a single day, then I want you to break down each task. If you had a phone call, I want to know how long the phone call took and what you discussed. If you wrote a memo, I want to know how long the memo took.' Understandably the client is concerned, but the systems they create to accomplish this reinforces the lawyer as commodity rather than the lawyer as advisor."
"Instead, the client should be sitting down with the law firm and asking: 'How can we do this better? How can we come up with creative billing?'" Rikeen asks. "Addressing the challenges of the billable-hour system requires that the client be part of that conversation and the clients have to understand they are best served by becoming partners in working with law firms to solve these problems."
Rikleen feels established firms don't want to take a risk. "Law firms need to make money just like any other institution, be able to operate in fiscally responsible ways. There is resistance to eliminating the billable hour because it's safe. Everybody is afraid to take a risk and do something different, even if it means more balance to life. But if there were more conversation around these issues, perhaps it would lead to greater efforts to experimentation. Then I think there could be faster movement toward changing the billable hour. If we solve that, we are on the way to allowing lawyers to be great professionals and great parents."
McGuireWoods LLP is a law firm that has been using alternative fees for over a year. "We still have hourly rates. Our clients like that we will give both an hourly rate fee and an alternative structure," says Tim Mullane, chief marketing officer, McGuire-Woods LLP. "The attorneys like it because it requires them to have better discussions with their clients. It's hard to do, because it takes a lot more time with the client to figure out the right model [alternate or hourly]. If you have alternative models, you have to look at things other than hours to understand lawyer performance, and I think those other things probably enhance the quality of work life for attorneys."
Koji Fukumura, litigation partner at Cooley Godward LLP, a firm with over 400 lawyers, disagrees with the concept of wholesale reform of billable hours. "It's hard; we've talked about this a great deal in the ABA [American Bar Association], and in other organizations I belong to," says Fukumura, who is the co-chair of the ABA Section of Litigation. "People have been trying forever to get away from the billable hours. While some large clients have suggested or even implemented programs for project-related fees or flat fee billing, the fact remains that 95 percent of the commercial litigation market remains billable-hour work."
What solutions to work/life balance issues does he suggest? "It's what Cooley already does: Those people who need to go on part-time schedules should be allowed to do so. We even have lawyers who work as low as 50 percent time. That type of arrangement is not for every part-time lawyer, but I think that we have to provide that type of flexibility, recognizing that our team members have important outside obligations. There are large firms where if you're working 75 percent time, and you take off the time you'd spend at Christmas or vacation-let's say your billable hour requirement is 2000 hours-then at 75 percent you're talking about working almost Monday through Friday nine-to-five for the balance of the time, assuming you're taking three weeks of vacation. To me, that's not part-time. Cooley's model of providing a meaningful part-time policy is probably the model that provides the greatest flexibility and appreciates to the greatest extent the challenges people have outside of the workplace."
Teamwork as a Solution
Most representatives of firms who feel they are doing a good job of helping attorneys with work/life balance issues stress teamwork.
"There are some firms that have a lifestyle and a culture," comments Fukumura. "We have a culture that looks at everyone as a team and respects everyone as teammates and, in so doing, recognizes that people have challenges and lives. I focus on ours because other firms look at it from an economic perspective only. We recognize we want to retain good people and we also have a culture here that we want to preserve. People talk about crunching numbers and it doesn't work. You have to give up a little bit. You have to bite the bullet or it isn't going to happen."
Both male and female attorneys are in a quandary about achieving work/life balance. In discussions with legal and research experts, as well as with associates struggling with this issue, several key words were repeated: flexibility, communication, and teamwork. By being flexible and accepting in terms of hours worked, along with lawyers communicating with each other and with clients, law firms can begin to build a culture of teamwork where everyone is working for the overall good and achieving a satisfying work/life balance. Using these tools, perhaps firms can begin restructuring to fit today's workforce and its needs.
Until that happens, Brock speaks for many who strive to create a work/life balance that incorporates a demanding profession and a commitment to family: "Some days it's a real struggle and some days it's not as much of a struggle, but there's not a single day that I regret it."
Kathleen Dreessen is a freelance writer based in Napa, Calif.
- "More Than Part-Time," A Report of the Employment Issues Committee of the Women's Bar Association of Massachusetts (2000).
- Thomas A. Kochan, Part-Time Partner Redux: So We Solved the Problem, Didn't We? Massachusetts Institute of Technology Workplace Center (2002).
- Mona Harrington, Care and Equality: Inventing a New Family Politics (Knopf, 1999).
From the September/October 2005 issue of Diversity & The Bar®