This is the last in a series of blogs based on information gleaned from a Women in Law Empowerment Forum (WILEF) virtual meeting presented by the WILEF Chicago Young Lawyers Committee to address impacts on women lawyers of practice during the pandemic. The first installment, published on August 5, 2020, addressed the subject of setting boundaries, the second installment, published on August 20th addressed privacy issues in a Zoom world, and the third installment addressed self-advocacy. Today’s topic is work-life balance and quality of life.
The profession of law has changed a lot since I started practicing more than 40 years ago. Women’s affinity groups, flexible schedules, achieving partnerships on less than full schedules — these are all new developments that have made the profession better for women. There is a lot that has been accomplished, but there is still a long way to go before women and men have the same opportunities in our profession.
Today, some of the issues have changed. Although the challenges for women lawyers are still very much in the spotlight, issues affecting broader diverse populations are now front and center as well. Addressing these issues responsibly takes time — time that affects the balance that is difficult for women in the law to achieve, especially those women with family and children care taking responsibilities. For every hour spent in committee meetings, practitioners have to find another hour in the day to work on client matters.
And clients also have become involved, too. Some clients are very proactive about how matters are staffed and are demanding more and more transparency on issues related to diversity. Clients scrutinize bills to see how the team actually functions and demand that diverse lawyers, who are assigned to the matter, actually work on the matter and are not just window dressing to secure the representation.
All of these varied responsibilities make it hard for lawyers to balance work life with home life. Some of the panelists described themselves as overwhelmed and in need of managers, who understood their need for boundaries and their aversion to false deadlines. They described the importance of learning to prioritize to meet even the true deadlines, and how much harder it has been during COVID-19 with kids at home and spouses working out of the same space. Some of these women found themselves turning to lawyer assistance programs, behavior therapy, and even medication to keep them in the game. One of them left practice. These measures all may seem extreme, but they are realistic. The law is a tough taskmaster.
The panelists all agreed that you have to do what is right for YOU. Law practice is not for everyone, and it may not be for you. Be honest about it, explore alternatives, and get the help you need.
Careers can be very long these days. Choose well, and remember that you don’t always get it right the first time. Be true to yourself, and let happiness be your goal.