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New York State Bar Report Finds Work-life Balance Still Eludes Most Attorneys

No, it isn't just you.  Balancing a professional and personal life is very difficult for most lawyers, regardless of the number of years they have been in practice, the size of their law firms, or their practice settings.  Indeed, a report by the New York State Bar Association recently concluded that the law is an ever-more demanding profession and that lawyers are finding less time to spend with their families or for citizenship activities in which lawyers have traditionally engaged.  The committee that drafted the report gathered information from lawyers at several forums held throughout the state.

For the committee's chairwoman, M. Catherine Richardson, her own life experience underscores the importance of effective work-life balance.  Attorney Richardson's father, himself a lawyer, passed away when she was only 15 years old.  She cherished the time she had with her father, made possible because her dad's commitment to work-life balance, along with some prompting by Richardson's mother, led him to keep weekends open for his family.  She pointed out that young lawyers really cannot spare the family time they lose by working at their offices on weekends.

Although the lawyers surveyed "overwhelmingly told the committee that they like practicing law and would enter the profession if they had it to do over again," they bemoaned the lack of flexible work schedules and options to work fewer hours.  Interestingly, technology is contributing to the attorneys' distress.  While e-mail and Internet-enabled wireless devices allow lawyers to work more efficiently and conveniently, they also keep lawyers on call to their firms and clients 24x7, 365 days a year.

The extensive report offered several recommendations, including that: 

  • law firms allow reduced hours or flex-time, and make them easier for attorneys to use; 
  • law schools do a better job of describing to students what to expect when they become attorneys, to address the committee's observation that most lawyers did not appreciate how demanding their jobs would be and the amount of stress the practice of law would cause for them; 
  • bar associations offer programs on time management and stress management; and 
  • law firms establish "boundaries" about when attorneys should be contacted for work.

Ms. Richardson said the committee wants to study the work-life balance issue further, to explore two additional questions:

  • what solo lawyers can do to manage achieve work-life balance with little or no support staff, and
  • how courts can adjust their schedules to accommodate attorneys better.

Read the entire report here as a PDF file.

By Steve Imparl, guest blogger

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