It was a cliché scene – Early morning before work. Fat Texas raindrops falling quietly outside. Pot of coffee gurgling as it brewed. Me, reading one of my favorite blogs on my smart phone. Then, suddenly, my eyes stopped in the middle of the screen, “talking about work/life balance is a fraud.” My brow furrowed and my veins started to pop, steam pushed its way out of my ears….and then I turned into the female version of The Hulk.
Ok, maybe not that last part, but I certainly felt like a Hulk-ish ball of rage when I read that Laurel Bellows, the President of the American Bar Association, said publicly in a women’s day interview that work/life balance was “not achievable” and women should never leave their law firm practice.
Well Ms. Bellows, you are wrong. You are wrong for two reasons:
– There is more than one definition of Work/Life Balance. The legal profession exists and thrives because there is more than one way to interpret the law. So it’s ironic then, that a long-time legal practitioner and President of the leading US attorney organization narrowly defines “work/life balance” as apparently being both managing partner of a law firm and June Cleaver at the same time.
That definition makes several sweeping assumptions – 1) that work/life balance is a goal only for women, 2) that you’re only successful in your career if you occupy the highest level position in your firm/office, 3) having kids is synonymous with being a 1950s stay-at-home mom/housewife, and 4) all women actually want to be both at the same time.
Skipping over those first three for a moment, I want to address the erroneous assumption that all women want to be managing partner and full-time mom completely and at the same time in their lives. It’s simply not true and if women were allowed to be honest with themselves, there is most likely one they want more at any given point in their lives. Ms. Bellows even admits as much in her own interview when she tells the story of walking out the door for a vacation and getting a call that the most amazing potential client wanted to meet with her that week. She was faced with a choice, and she chose the client – she wanted that more.
When I first started writing this blog, I told the story of this woman I know who has it all. On the outside, using Ms. Bellows’s definition, she really almost does. But if you get her alone and talk to her about it, what she really wants is to be a stay-at-home mom… And there are men out there who want stay-at-home status too.
– Talent does not equal Job Title. Not all attorneys are good business people or good managers. I would argue that, for many attorneys, what makes them good at their job is also what makes them quite frankly horrible managers and/or business people. So why on earth would we measure the success of those attorneys by whether or not they made managing partner at their firms?
Take me, for example. I am not a great attorney. I just don’t have that fighting instinct (or interest) and I’m not quick enough on my feet to do well in trial. However, I am very good a legal writing and even better at educating, and I’m pretty o.k. at managing people. To tell someone like me that I have to work 80 hours per week doing “attorney work” in order to eventually, and only maybe, work my way into being a manager and finally being able to say “I’m successful” is completely ignoring me as an individual and my talent. Similarly, telling the attorneys I know that are inspiring to watch in a courtroom and come alive the second they are in front of a judge that they aren’t successful until they become managers is ignoring their talent…and eventually wasting it.
There are talented attorneys, writers, educators, managers, parents, chefs, business people, men, and women who, if allowed to really be honest with themselves, want some individualized combination of things generally known as “work” and things other than work such as children, vacation, gardening, yoga and so much more. And that individualized balance between “work” and “life” is absolutely achievable.
Ms. Bellows claiming expertise on work/life balance is like a diabetic claiming expertise on sugar. (And The Hulk is now stepping down from her soapbox)…