The Atlantic’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” hits home for female lawyers

Work-life balance is notorious in the legal profession, but with a few adjustments, schedules could become more flexible for lawyers of both genders

At InsideCounsel, we’re dedicated to the advancement of women in law. Through our Transformative Leadership program and Project 5/165, we do what we can to attempt to reach the day when women are truly equal to men in the legal profession. So, naturally, this month’s Atlantic cover story caught our eye. Anne-Marie Slaughter’s “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” scrutinizes the standards we hold working women to, especially those who are trying to balance a career and a family. Women who prioritize their families often suffer professionally, she says.

One of the biggest challenges facing working mothers, Slaughter says, is the pervasive belief throughout the business world that the more hours you put in at your job, the better employee you are. She points to law firms as a prime example of this problem:

“Nothing captures the belief that more time equals more value better than the cult of billable hours afflicting large law firms across the country and providing exactly the wrong incentives for employees who hope to integrate work and family,” the story reads.

She’s not the only one who thinks so. Our own career columnist, Mike Evers, wrote several months ago that the death of hourly billing could lead to not only happier, but more productive lawyers of both genders.

“The treadmill of chasing hours never stops, justifying hours becomes a defensive exercise and the lifestyle of tracking hours causes a tremendous amount of stress,” Evers wrote in his column. “Removing the almighty hour as a business objective frees a good lawyer.”

In her Atlantic piece, Slaughter suggests alternative fee structures as one solution to the lack of schedule flexibility that can leave women feeling torn between standing out at work and spending time with their families.

"The lack of alternatives to assessing attorneys based on their billable hours is a definite impediment for women in law firms,” says Christine Edwards, a partner at Winston & Strawn and Transformative Leadership Award winner. “Often partnership assessments occur at the very time when women attorneys may be considering starting families. It is a Solomonic choice for many women. Some choose to opt out; some choose to go in house and some clench the knife between their jaws and go after partnership. There has to be a better way.”

Slaughter also proposes that a combination of outsourcing, virtual firms and women-owned firms could make the legal profession less inhibitive. According to the article, family-friendly policies have been shown to actually improve employee performance.

“Women, and Generation X and Y lawyers more generally, are pushing for these changes on the supply side; clients determined to reduce legal fees and increase flexible service are pulling on the demand side,” Slaughter writes. “Slowly, change is happening.”

Read the full story at The Atlantic.

 

Read more InsideCounsel coverage of women in law:

25 U.S. companies commit to using women and minority-owned law firms

“Dinner Among Friends” fosters network of female GCs

More women in the pipeline to become CEOs

4 companies show true commitment to advancing women in law

Women GCs climbing the ladder

 

Read more about alternative billing structures:

In-house legal increasingly shifting to alternative fee arrangements

The death of hourly billing could lead to happier lawyers

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