Law People

The Gay Man's Perspective on Women's Work/Life Balance Issues

Will Meyerhofer is a lawyer who worked at Sullivan & Cromwell before chucking it and getting his MSW to become a therapist. He is also gay. He writes the blog The People's Therapist and occasionally ties in issues relating to the legal community. His latest entry is about a recent podcast he did with the American Bar Association Journal on "Work/Life Balance." The only male among the panelists and the moderator, Meyerhofer clearly resented that the work/life topic got turned into a gender issue. Here's a sampling of his points:

"The unspoken “women’s lib” angle on the “work/life balance” at law firms is this: women give birth to children, and it’s impossible to raise a kid if you are a partner at a law firm, so women are less likely to become partners. If they did, they wouldn’t have time to raise a kid. It’s also impossible to meet anyone you want to have a kid with when you’re working 70-hour weeks...

Plenty of male partners have kids. They become absentee fathers, and their kids never see them. Nothing new there. But a social stigma kicks in when your kid tells his friends he only sees mommy an hour a week.

You also have to find time to be pregnant. If you put it off until you make partner, you face fertility problems. That’s a fundamental bummer about being a woman who wants a kid – when you’re mentally prepared your body gives out. At sixteen, anyone can get pregnant. At 39, you can only get pregnant if you don’t want to...

The solution to all this is obvious – have a kid while you still can, and let your husband do the raising.

That’s more or less where the other panelists ended up, but only after spouting “women can have it all” slogans and fabricating visions of “part-time partners.” The law professors on the panel had no concept of law firm reality. The young lawyer running an internet-based T&E firm receded politely when I pointed out the obvious: plenty of women would rather stay at home with the kids than work at a firm. Hell, I’ve worked with couples where the husband and wife fight over who has to do law for a living. They’d both rather stay home and play with junior. Wouldn’t you?

A second yawning gulf between me and the other panelists came with their determination to defend law as a profession. They were “pro-law” and I was “anti-law.” That’s understandable, since the ABA Journal represents the official propaganda ministry for Law, Inc. Law professors need to herd eager young things into school – that’s how they earn big bucks. And the internet lady was trying to drum up business, too – she has loans to pay.

I’m not from that world. I’m a psychotherapist who cleans up the wreckage of young lives decimated by the law school/law firm machine."

Meyerhofer's conclusion? "Homo or hetero, male or female we are all in the same boat... Humanophobia is the issue."

According to Meyerhofer, at least the last 10 minutes of the podcast were deleted from the ABA Journal recording made available to the public. What went missing?

"Work/life balance is impossible so long as the billable hour remains the holy grail of law firm life. Working “only 2200 hours per year” makes it impossible to have a family or any sort of personal life.

Sorry. That’s the truth.

And that’s what I was saying in those missing 10 minutes of tape that got cut.

In years to come, you’ll be treated to a few hundred fresh hours of Richard Nixon’s disquisitions on the racial inferiority of blacks and Jews – but if the ABA Journal has its way, you’re never going to hear those last 10 minutes of why it sucks to be a lawyer."

As Meyerhofer embodies, more men are claiming that the quality of law firm life is not an issue just for women or even for those raising families. In the 2010 AmLaw 200 Midlevel Associate Survey, the number of associates planning on leaving their jobs in the near or mid-term rose again. Nearly 45% said if they left, it would be for a better work/life balance, a 5% increase from the prior year. It's apparent that many feel that during the economic crunch their workload has been ratcheted up while their salaries and benefits have been put on hold or reduced. One Morrison & Foerster associate wrote, “Work/life balance is important to more people than . . . [just] mothers and lazy people.”

One might also question the sustainability of giving well-reasoned legal judgments through an endless series of caffeine-fueled, sleep-deprived 70+ hour work weeks, regardless of which gender you are. As well as the meaning of living such a life.

I will let you decide how legitimate these observations are -- whether, as Meyerhofer claims, work/life balance is nonexistent in firms and that its absence creates an issue not just for women.

But is there a female perspective on work/life balance that is unique to women?

Let me hear your view.
 

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