Friday, January 18, 2008

Great lawyers don't work 80 hours a week

Have you ever noticed that the history of great lawyers never includes reference to the number of billable hours those lawyers accumulated? When you consider the greats -- Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Clarence Darrow, Gerry Spence, for but a few -- do you know what their billable hours were?

Of course not. Because great lawyers have great minds, can think well on their feet, and have excellent analytical and writing skills.

Unfortunately, even the best of intellects fray with fatigue and lack of a balanced life style, a fact that the legal profession is slow to acknowledge.

An article titled "Billable hours 'intersect' with the profession's woes" in the January 2008 issue of the California Bar Journal, contains the now familiar story of a successful big firm lawyer who, after 16 years, had had enough. She wanted a life, she wanted a husband, she wanted children. Rather than being marginalized for working part-time for a big law firm, she opened her own consulting/mediation practice and works zero to 20 hours a week. She is hardly the only lawyer that has made that choice.

Although some law firms are claiming to make some efforts to create a more work-life balance friendly environment, they have a long way to go. I recently heard a young associate from a large firm happily describe her 60% work week option as working "only 50 hours a week"!

It is up to lawyers themselves to change the profession, one person at a time. If you want to be a great lawyer (or paralegal or other legal professional), chart a career course that values your talents and abilities, rather than maximizing your hours at the office.

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