President's Message - JULY
WLALA President 2014-2015
Summer is a balancing act – professional commitments mixed with varying camp schedules for my kids, a vacation and other appointments I am trying to fit in. I always have been cautious about how much of my personal life I reveal to my colleagues, often keeping this balancing act to myself.
Recent research reported in the New York Times suggests that my concerns may be valid. An article titled How Some Men Fake an 80-Hour Workweek, and Why It Matters reports on research by Erin Reid, a professor at Boston University, whose work suggests that asking for workplace flexibility to accommodate personal commitments can be detrimental to your career. But, discreetly tending to your personal commitments (or “faking it”) seems to have no negative effect. The study also found that women are more likely to ask for accommodations, and men are more likely to quietly lighten their workload, by taking on less, finding local clients to avoid travel or ducking out to a child’s soccer game.
Even if we are not officially asking for accommodations, are we better off quietly “ducking out” to tend to personal commitments without sharing the details with others? The “quiet” approach may be more challenging for lawyers, especially those who are early in their careers. Most law firms still rely primarily on the billable hour for revenues. And, many senior lawyers value face time with junior members on their team. But, regardless of these challenges, Ms. Reid’s research suggests that advertising your child’s doctor appointment, soccer game or school performance may not be the best approach.
While keeping my personal commitments quiet may benefit me, the problem with this approach is that younger, more junior attorneys do not have visibility into how people like me balance personal and professional commitments. They miss out on mentoring on how it can be done. Some may come to believe that it is impossible to be successful as a lawyer and still have a fulfilling personal life. We want younger women in our law firms and legal departments to see that they can continue to flourish in their career and still make the doctor appointments, soccer games, and school performances (most the time, at least). If they don’t know that others are successfully doing that, we all lose out.
How do we solve this riddle – continue to protect ourselves in our careers, but share our lives with others who can benefit from knowing our experiences? While I am not going to advertise to all in my office when I arrive late due to a family commitment, I can do more to share my balancing act with those who are looking for mentoring on the issue.
And, WLALA has a role to play as well. It is a lot easier to share your challenges, concerns and successes at maintaining a personal life with those who do not work for the same organization. This month, the Los Angeles County Bar Association/WLALA Joint Task Force for the Promotion and Retention of Women provides this opportunity. It will host a panel discussion on Tipping the Balance: Practical Tips for Managing High Level Practice and Family. One of my favorite things about attending Joint Task Force events is meeting other women with lives similar to mine and learning about their strategies to reach professional and personal success. Many thanks to LACBA for hosting the program. The program is free, but please register to attend.
In addition to formal programs, each month WLALA offers opportunities to simply meet and get to know women attorneys from many different organizations across Los Angeles. For example, on July 14, there will be a Career Mentoring dinner on the Westside for practicing attorneys of all levels of experience. On July 22, WLALA will hold its annual Nail Night downtown. And, on July 30, WLALA’s own administrator, Lindsay Audette, will lead a fun session on Improv for Lawyers. We hope you can attend some of these events and will feel free to share your personal experiences as a woman lawyer in Los Angeles.