Last week I read, an article in The Daily Beast entitled “The Female Lawyer Exodus“. The author, former lawyer Marlisse Silver Sweeney, investigates why a disproportionate amount of female attorneys are abandoning their legal careers, and her conclusion is a not-so-new look at the issue of work-life balance in the legal profession.
Let me be honest. I am not a believer in work-life-balance. If you want to make equity partner, male or female, you won’t be voted parent of the year. On the flip side, if you want to raise your own children, you probably won’t make equity partner in Big Law. Everything requires sacrifice.
So with that said, here is my take on the issue of women leaving the legal profession.
The traditional law firm model is based on an old-fashioned viewpoint, where the man works long hours (to accrue billable hours) and his non-working spouse takes care of his life. In law it’s all about the hours. As the author stated:
In private practice, lawyers bill clients for every minute of work, which promotes spending as much time as possible on one project. Time targets for associates create pressure and decrease efficiency. Under this model, a lawyer who takes four hours to draft a short contract could theoretically be favored over a lawyer who takes only two, even if the end product is equal. (Emphasis added.)
For obvious reasons, this model doesn’t work today when it’s the mom who is working those long hours. Unless roles are reversed, and husbands stay home to handle life, typically there is no one at home taking care of our lives, and reality dictates that someone must handle the issues that come up at home.
So how do we keep up with this little thing called life?
In the article, the female equity partner mentoring the author had “a nanny, a cook, a husband with an opposite work schedule, [and] parents and in-laws to help out”.
Is that what it takes for a woman to make equity partner in Big Law? I think the short answer is yes.
While there will always be exceptions, for women to be successful in this profession at the highest levels, you have to either not be married or have the equivalent of a “wife” at home. In essence, you have to work like a man. You have to be OK with not seeing your children awake, eating every meal at your desk, and lugging your laptop to Disney World if you’re lucky enough to get a vacation away with your family.
So here’s my question: does it have to be this way?
Of course it doesn’t! Law firms could move away from the billable hour toward pre-fixe pricing or value-based pricing models, but most choose not to.
And it’s this choice that ensures that more women will leave the profession.
Most women don’t have hours to spare. We actually pride ourselves in getting our work done well fast.
So long as we still bear the brunt on the “life” side of the equation, the responsibilities of raising a family and keeping house fall to the mom and that takes precious hours away from work.
In a profession where success is determined by quantity of hours and NOT quality of work, women will have a disadvantage.