Quality of Life of Young Lawyers:

A Balancing Act

By Abigail Edelstein, FAWL Young Lawyers Committee

During my first semester of law school, several professors warned us that “the law is a jealous mistress.” These famous words were first said by Supreme Justice Joseph Story over 180 years ago. However, they are as relevant today as they were back then. Lawyers are still struggling to achieve a healthy balance between their personal and professional lives. Since work/life balance is an essential part of being a great lawyer, the Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division began an initiative focusing on the quality of life of young lawyers. This article addresses the challenges young lawyers face in achieving balance between their professional and personal lives and also provides suggestions on how to achieve balance.

The gender landscape of the legal profession is quickly changing. More women than men are graduating from law schools and entering the workforce in record numbers. “In the last quarter century, the legal profession has experienced a dramatic growth in the number of women in the profession and in the economic pressures that the profession faces.”1 Today, women constitute approximately 34% of the American bar and about half of law schools’ entering classes.2

Additionally, technology has created a new set of opportunities and challenges for young lawyers. On one hand, technology makes it possible for lawyers to work smarter, be more productive, and work remotely. Conversely, technology has blurred the boundary line between work and the rest of life. The end result is lawyers who are connected and available to their workplace through cell phones and email on a constant basis.

Today, many lawyers feel that they do not have enough time for themselves or their families. Almost three-quarters of lawyers with children report difficulty balancing professional and personal demands.3 The number of women who doubt the possibility of successfully combining work and family has almost tripled over the past two decades.4 The ABA Young Lawyers Division Career Satisfaction Survey found that only a fifth of surveyed lawyers are very satisfied with the balance between work and their personal life.5 Almost three quarters (72.7%) are at least somewhat satisfied.6

Concerns about balancing the competing demands of work and life are customarily associated with women. However, newer generations are demonstrating that this is no longer only a “women’s issue.” A generational shift in priorities is taking place within law firms where young men and women express a greater desire for a healthier work/life balance.

Catalyst, a leading nonprofit research organization working to advance professional women, conducted a comprehensive study of approximately 1,400 lawyers, including those employed by private firms, government, public interest organizations, and in-house counsel. Part of their study compared the work/life balance of male and female attorneys. The study found that men and women lawyers reported similar levels and sources of work/life conflict.7 71% of men and women lawyers with children reported work/life conflict.8 62% of women lawyers without children and 56% of men lawyers without children reported work/life conflict.9 The Catalyst study emphasizes that attorneys of both sexes express a strong desire for a balance between their work and family life.

Although both men and women report high levels of work/life conflict, the careers of women lawyers were found to be more negatively affected in terms of advancement and career paths.10 Catalyst’s study found that 34% of women lawyers have worked part-time compared to only 9% of men.11 Additionally, women are four times more likely to take a leave of absence than men and work/life balance was found to weigh heavily on the career choices women lawyers make.12 The study found that women lawyers reported work/life balance as their number one reason for selecting their current employer compared to male lawyers who listed work/life balance as their third reason for selecting their current employer.13

During my research for this article and my experience as a lawyer, I have yet to discover a lawyer who has achieved the perfect work/life balance. However, young lawyers can achieve sanity and balance by frequently reevaluating and making changes to reach this goal throughout their career. Below are six suggestions that may help young lawyers’ balancing act a little easier.

  1. Identify and remember your priorities. Think about how you want to allocate your time and energy among work, family, friends, hobbies, and/or leisure activities. Make a list of what is important in your life and refer back to this list when you are having a stressful moment. Keep this list handy and put in in places easily viewable so you can think about your priorities regularly. This will help you refocus and remind yourself to readjust. Once you determine what is important in your life, it is a little easier to prioritize and find a work/life balance.
  2. Establish a schedule that works for you. A strategy that I have found extremely effective is time blocking. Integrate your priorities into your schedule and stick to the plan. For example, block off two evenings each week to spend time with your spouse or significant other. Blocking off time helps you stay focused and work smarter to accommodate other priorities in your life.
  3. Seek and cultivate mentoring relationships with lawyers who have gone through similar experiences as yourself. A great mentor will help you become a well-rounded attorney. Part of being a well-rounded attorney includes creating a plan to achieve work/life balance. There is tremendous value in the knowledge that mentors share and young lawyers can learn from their mentor’s experiences with both success and failure.
  4. Take care of yourself. Make efforts to eat healthy, stay active, get regular check-ups, and get enough sleep. Block off time in your schedule to ensure that you have sufficient time to take care of yourself mentally, physically, spiritually, and emotionally.
  5. Find purpose and enjoyment in what you do. They say that if you love what you do that you will not work another day in your life. Most young lawyers have not been blessed with their dream job. However, that should not prevent young lawyers from finding purpose and enjoyment in their current career. Be creative and find ways to incorporate your passions into your work.
  6. Maintaining a positive attitude is key to maintaining your happiness during your journey to achieving your ideal work/life balance.

Our generation of young lawyers have discovered that finding the optimal balance between their professional and personal lives, is an essential part of being a happy and successful lawyer. In order to ensure balance in the long-run, young lawyers must adopt whatever changes that are necessary to make their professional and personal lives work for them. Young lawyers who commit and take action to achieve work/life balance early on can achieve the quality of life they desire. Young lawyers can have it all, it just depends on what their definition of “all” means to them.

1 ABA Commission on Women In The Profession: Balanced Lives, at 10.
2 ABA Commission on Women In The Profession: A Current Glance At Women in the Law (July 2014), at 2-3.
3 Catalyst, Women in Law: Making the Case, Executive Summary, at 9 (2001).
4 Terry Carter, “Paths Need Paving,” ABA J. Sept. 2000, at 35.
5 About a quarter of lawyers were dissatisfied, and about half were somewhat satisfied. Only a fifth disagreed that they spent too much time on work. ABA Young Lawyers Division, Career Satisfaction Survey, Table 20 (2000).
6 Id.
7 Catalyst, Women in Law: Making the Case, Executive Summary (2001), at 9.
8 Id.
9 Id.
10 Id.
11 Id.
12 Id.
13 Id.

The Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Health and Wellness Month 2015