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Flex-Time Responds to The Careerist

Vivia Chen

November 7, 2010

The following is the response by Flex-Time Lawyers founder and president Deborah Epstein Henry to a recent Careerist post ("Business Case for Work/Life Balance--Really?") by Vivia Chen. 

It was with great interest that I read this post as it raises valid concerns about the future of the legal industry. And that’s what I told the audience of nearly 200 attendees at Skadden, Arps when Vivia posed her questions to me on Monday at the NY launch of my book, Law & Reorder.

While I am optimistic about the changes facing the industry, I’m not naïve. Had Vivia read the book that I gave her, she would know that the theme of my book is not that we have arrived but rather that we need to make the exception the rule - that there are pioneers in the profession who have created solutions for new legal models and career paths that need to be adopted to become the new mainstream. My conclusions are based on a career of working with law firms, in-house legal departments, lawyers and law students and my book is steeped in endnotes and entirely fact based and data driven.

Perhaps it was Vivia’s own biases that led her to only depict the conversation to be a “pink” one. The book and Monday’s discussion focused not only on capitalizing on the strengths of the talent pool but also on other drivers and solutions for change including technology, the recession, outsourcing, alterative fees, alternative legal models, and increased client pressure to lower rates and deliver value and predictability.

The endorsements for Law & Reorder by 25 legal and other industry leaders including the general counsels of DuPont, Verizon, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Allstate Insurance, CIGNA, and the Association of Corporate Counsel, as well as managing partners, law school deans, leaders of bar and women's associations, legal industry experts, and career and work/life experts, cannot be dismissed as happenstance. Their testimonials that can be found here, http://www.lawandreorder.com/test.asp, reflect irrefutable support for change, not just on work/life balance and women’s issues, but also for structural change and solutions for employers, clients and lawyers that are the focal point of my book.

I think the better question for Vivia is not whether she is too cynical. My question would have been: Is it better to be a mouthpiece for the status quo or be part of the solution?

To view other readers' comments, please scroll to the end of the original post.

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Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? E-mail The Careerist's chief blogger, Vivia Chen, at VChen@alm.com.


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I suppose it's talking about flex application

Yeah, Henry is ignoring actual incentives. Oh, really? People want to work less rigid hours but still have "rewarding" careers? "Increasing numbers" of other people agree that this would be a good idea? A few people have managed to do this? Guess what: none of these facts portends a shift in the way almost everyone works.

Clients call big law firms when they have important problems that need to be fixed. That is what drives the lawyer's schedule. Sure, the GC and managing partner both agree with Deborah Epstein Henry that happy lawyers are more efficient and work-life balance is important, but right now Problem X is really more important. We all just need to work really hard until we resolve Problem X, and then we'll all go back to working flex time. Trouble is, before Problem X is resolved, a different client (who also agrees with Deborah Epstein Henry that happy lawyers are more efficient and work-life balance is important) has Problem Y, which is really just so important that we all have to work really hard until we resolve Problem Y, and then we'll get back to working flex time. Repeat. This is the fundamental nature of the business.

Everyone wants a rewarding career without having to give up everything else in life. Everyone also wants to eat hot fudge sundaes every day without getting fat. Most of us settle on a mediocre middle ground where we feel like we're neglecting both our careers and our lives. Clients with really important problems and partners with ex-spouses to support are not going to actually facilitate true work-life balance, no matter how much lip service they give it. This is not beacause they're mean or cynical, it's just because reality gets in the way. Your choices are to readjust your expectations about what constitutes a "rewarding career" or forget about balance until you have enough leverage to make clients and partners wait for your life instead of hiring someone else for the job who is less concerned with balance at that moment (you know, like you were while you were trying to build up the leverage to have a choice).

While I think Ms. Henry's view is interesting and I have always thought that employers, including law firms, have not given sufficient thought to flex-time and telecommuting; I also think that Ms. Chen's comments are the unfortunate reality that we have to deal with. Companies do not care whether law firms are employing flex-time phiosophies no more than they care about what benefits law firm employees are given. It is and always will be about quality representation and economical service. The other very real problem is that lawyers are not "on the clock" employees and the need is often dictated by clients and not the clock.

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About The Careerist

The Careerist takes an inside look at how lawyers shape their careers and manage their lives. The blog aims to dissect developments in the profession, provide useful information and advice, and give lawyers a platform to voice their views. The goal is to provide a fresh, provocative take on the state of lawyering.

About Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen

Vivia Chen, The Careerist's chief blogger, has been covering the business and culture of law firms for a decade. A former corporate lawyer, Chen is fascinated by those who thrive (as well as those who don't) in the legal profession. Her take: Success in the law (and life) doesn't always travel a linear path. If you have topics you'd like to discuss or information to share, contact her: VChen@alm.com

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