Thursday, June 10, 2010

There is No Work/Life Balance for Big Firm Associates: From the Horse's Mouth

A female partner, Kathleen Wu, from Andrews & Kurth gives a reality check to lemmings: "Get real," she says regarding women's ability to find a healthy work/life balance while working in Big Law. Nice to hear it from someone who is considered a success in the Legal Industry. If you're not willing to listen to scam bloggers, because you think we're failures, whiners or whatever else, you should listen to her. She must know what she is talking about.
Recent grads shouldn’t get their hearts set on “having it all.” The practice of law is demanding — exceedingly so. It is next to impossible to balance a full-time legal career with marriage, children and regular trips to the gym. It’s no coincidence that the two women most recently nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court — now-Justice Sonia Sotomayor and nominee/U.S. Solicitor General Elena Kagan — are unmarried and childless.
I've said this once, and I'll say it a hundred times, even the ideal life for an attorney is far from ideal. Instead of making dinner for your husband, you order dinner on your client's tab and bring him the leftovers. That is not the way that most women want to live.

If I could say it any better, I would. But she summarizes it so well. I know that it's hard for lemmings to believe the scam bloggers when we might be the exception to the rule. But we're right about what all attorneys know to be true, being an attorney is not all it's cracked up to be.

Yes, you may be one of the "lucky" ones, make law review and get the premier job at the premier firm. But will that make you happy? Probably not.

Ms. Wu challenges to assumptions that most lemmings make when they go to law school:
So why do we move this to the category of “very very good advice?” Because, in our minds, for too long a notion has been perpetuated that with a law degree comes happiness. That notion rests on two faulty premises, one of which has been discussed much in recent years, the other less so.

The first assumption is that a law degree is a ticket to a well-paying job. As we and countless other blogs have chronicled in recent years, that’s just not true. Even when the job market was humming right along, back in 2005-2007, many students from schools outside the top-tier struggled to get jobs.

The second assumption — which Wu addresses — is that once the good job comes along, happiness will follow. But that’s simply not true. Even the best and the brightest — those who sailed through the top schools — often find themselves crushed by the obligations of the legal profession: the drudgery, the long hours, the tedious travel to uninspiring destinations. It may be true that you can squeeze in a successful legal career, a marriage and kids, and a hyper-efficient daily exercise routine. But chances are, there might not be time to learn Italian, write the Great American Novel, run your local community garden.
So, let's summarize. You either land the dream job and have no life OR you land the shit job and have no money. Why does anyone want to join the legal field? Yes there are exceptions to my general rule, but they are few and far between. Of course, if you go to law school on a full scholarship, the chances of you finding a low paying--but enjoyable--job as a lawyer are drastically increased. But most people go to law school of Aunt Sallie's dime. So, please heed Ms. Wu's warning, if you don't think mine is worth listening to.


  1. Biglaw work is mindnumbingly boring while simultaneously being incredibly difficult and stressful.

    There is a reason that most biglaw associates are unhappy, fat, and sleep deprived. Oh, and wash out of their firms within a few years. Better to have the money than not though.

    And of course, the vast majority of "in-shape" women you meet in biglaw are not in-shape. They're anorexic.

  2. I chose a medium size practice so that I could have a life and cases I cared about. My biglaw buddies are now fully enslaved to the firm. I avoided biglaw for the same reason I avoided becoming a surgeon -- the lifestyle sucks and then you die. Has anyone looked at the divorce rates for the legal and medical professions?

  3. You know, Biglaw is only the way that it is because TPTB allow it to remain that way--it's not like God created Biglaw on the 8th day or anything. Which is why I found Wu to be more than a little bit disingenuous. How about saying hey, we've benefited from the system the way that it is, we like the obscene profits that we reap from using associates (usually women) up for five years and then spitting them out, and it's pretty amazing that we can then convince these otherwise intelligent people that their destroyed careers and lives are their own fault for thinking that they can have a spouse and kids just like the menz? At least that would be honest.

  4. Like one of our labels say: Read and travel to become educated! You'll enjoy it much more than spending three years in law school and after that being unemployed, practicing shitlaw, or taking shit from a biglaw partner. Don't go to law school!

  5. I agree Jadz. I've heard from women in Biglaw that the women who sacrifice having a life to make it to the top use and abuse the women at the bottom who want a more well rounded life. Many of the women at the top are just as bad as the menz and they aren't willing to sacrifice their spot to challenge the system or help other women. I know people who would rather travel, settle down and raise a family, or start at the bottom of another job field rather than go back to making six-figures at a firm. So you know it has to be a shitty lifestyle.

  6. The other areas of law outside of big law are generally just as time intensive. One reader is very lucky to have that mid-sized law firm. But I know at most small law firms most people also are overworked, but now they are also underpaid.

    The only good positions are really in the government. They generally actually pay well too, there are plenty of $150k attorneys jobs in the fed, usually you'll need the experience and usually you have to get that experience in big law or in another government position like a DA's job.

    But the competition is so fierce and the hiring is so low.

    I don't think this is a problem specific to women, but rather it is a US truth: almost every position in the US is overworked. US workers average 12 days off a year, compare that to 50-60 for many European countries and you just have to wonder what is wrong with this country. Why do we have this system designed to make people so unhappy?

    TPTB simply don't want Americans being in families and having family lives. Instead, for some reason, our government wants immigration and then lower income population growth. I guess the super high class don't have any problems, but everyone in the middle class is out of luck.

  7. Here's a UM - assume U of Miami - law grad, top 5%, with law review shilling for a job. Props for creativity and I wish him well, but even those who thrive in LS are failing on the job search front.

    "I'm in the middle of studying for the Florida Bar Exam, and getting this diary on the rec. list has basically made my week.
    Related: if anyone in South Florida is interested in hiring a recent UM Law Grad (Law Review/Top 5%/Student Loans), I am looking for a job (legal or political)."

  8. "I've said this once, and I'll say it a hundred times, even the ideal life for an attorney is far from ideal. Instead of making dinner for your husband, you order dinner on your client's tab and bring him the leftovers. That is not the way that most women want to live."

    making dinner for my husband? After a day at the grueling office, hell he better have something waiting for me! At least for half of the week--and no, I do not dream about this or idealize this option. Neither scenario appeals to me. Zip, zilch, nada. Are his hands broken?

  9. One country that is pretty darn close to having it all is Sweden. If you haven't read the NYTimes article:
    It's not about who makes the dinner and who does the dishes. It's about allowing both men and women to spend time with their family and have a career if they choose to.



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