Gen X at 40

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Hans -

You're right, Al. The pressures of the legal profession fall on both men and women lawyers. In fact, I've seen sevaral male lawyers self-combust (yes, first hand) but I can only think of one female lawyer that had a major meltdown. Women lawyers manifest their difficulties with the pressure of being lawyers in different ways: They tend to drift toward careers in government or eschew family life completely becoming bitter old spinsters who are very unpleasant to deal with professionally.

And yet.... Why do women keep entering law school in higher and higher droves if it is so unfavourable to a healthy work-life balance as well as ultimately unsatisfying in career terms? Why don't they invent a new business model that would be more favourable to them and then see if they get any clients?

Answer: Because some women go to law school because they are ambitious and greedy just like some men. The big firm is the perfect fit for some of these people. I don't have a lot of sympathy for those who are ambitious and greedy but can't handle the pressure of pursuing that lifestyle.

I could go on about the problems with the practice of law and its soul-destroying properties, but I'll just leave off for now and say it ain't a gender thing.

Gorthos -

What is truly amazing to me is that in my realm of business, the same could have been said for women and men as short a period as 6 years ago. Since I have returned I have found that the most profitable and most prominent firms have gone to a 40-45 hour work week from the 55-60 I had been used to before my hiatus vacation as a civil servant. I gather that the firms came to some sort of joint realization that people wouldn't stay if they were unhappy and would flip firms for $0.50 an hour.

I blame it all on the boomers. Psychologically speaking they crave praise and status whereas we (the post boomers, gen-xers) are not so big on praise or recognition, we prefer reward and responsibility. Sure, I'll work a 10 hour day when need be, but 3 of those hours will be from 9pm -12 am at home after the kids go to bed, while in my jammies

Jay Currie -


I suspect, however, that there is no solution to the problems of a legal/business culture steeped in the ethos of the "all nighter" and the billable hour. And you see much the same ethos at work in medicine and in the early years of many MBAs' careers.

My own sense is that this may not be about greed so much as hazing: "Just how dedicated is Phipps here?" It is a bit of a ritual wherein the baby lawyer/doc/analyst is pushed beyond any reasonable limit to see if they "have what it takes".

The entry of more and more women into the professions may shift this a bit but I agree with Hans: women who choose to enter tend to be very tough indeed and not terrifically enthusiastic about making things any easier for the people who follow.

And the problem is only likely to get worse as the demand for high level analytic talent, aggression and training increases. When lawyers begin seeing a yearly billing record of 2000+ hours (which implies a minimum of 3000 hours spent on the job) as the norm, family life, health and a sense of balance will be fleeting for men and women.

The one piece of the puzzle which the Chief Justice passes over is the degree to which the various professions have had the scope of their obligations (and thus work)radically increased by the imposition of much higher standards of professional conduct and liability. So, for example, it is not uncommon for a law firm to be sued by its own clients for failing to be quite exhaustive enough in their trial preparations or in the drafting of a bond indenture or contract. Doctors face the same problem and, increasingly, business professionals in publically traded companies are being sued by their shareholders or face criminal liability for essentially civil questions. While this, no doubt, serves some purpose, it radically increases the workloads these professionals face.

Hans -

Good point, Jay. On top of the traditional pressure is the the pressure of knowing that if a case goes sour, many a client will contemplate suing their lawyer, reporting him/her to the authorities and/or running to the news media. On top of the time spent working on the content of the work is the time spent covering your ass to avoid such a threat.