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Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 4, May 2000

Issue 4, May 2000

  • Reality or an Impossible Dream? Effective Strategies for Achieving Career Success AND Life Balance


Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

Issue # 4
Reality or an Impossible Dream?
- Effective Strategies for Achieving Career Success AND Life Balance

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ARTICLE SUMMARY: "Having it all" isn't an impossible dream. Conversations with women lawyers who've made this dream a reality indicate that their strategies include: self-advocacy with a clear sense of your value; accepting challenges while learning as you meet them; telling partners and clients what you can do and when you are available vs. apologizing for limitations; finding flexible schedules that include full opportunities for advancement and take advantage of new technologies; fighting gender discrimination; cultivating advocates; rainmaking; and settling for nothing less than success AND life balance.

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Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor

Ellen is the founder of LawyersLifeCoach.com™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life.

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OUR PERSPECTIVE

Most attorneys - especially women -- live impossibly busy lives. Finding a balance between work and life without sacrificing professional success, deciding on the best practice area or work setting, and making career transitions can be a daunting task, even for the most gifted and accomplished lawyer.

Just as every person deserves the best possible legal counsel, every attorney deserves professional, dedicated support in accomplishing her most important goals. You know how hard you've worked to get where you are -- you serve others, both personally and professionally. You've earned the right to both career success and a fulfilling life.

This newsletter is intended to help you create a satisfying life -- within, or outside of -- legal practice.

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"Reality or Impossible Dream? - Effective Strategies for Achieving Career Success AND Life Balance"

"...the more I look at my life as the
fabric of my own choices, the easier
it is to use all my energy to accomplish
what I set out to do." (Footnote 1)
Siobhan Helene Shea
President, Palm Beach Chapter,
Florida Association of Women Lawyers

DO YOU BELIEVE THAT "HAVING IT ALL" IS IMPOSSIBLE?

Most attorneys wrestle with the challenge of accomplishing career success without sacrificing the rest of what makes life worth living. The desire to "have a life" outside legal practice is driving increasing numbers of lawyers to reconsider their careers. They are realizing that the more they trade off other meaningful aspects of life -- relationships, significant interests, health -- the emptier they feel.

You, too, may be realizing that even a big bank account doesn't fill the void that results from ignoring other aspects of your life. And if you're still trying to make your practice more lucrative, you probably wish you could do so without forfeiting your personal life.

Many attorneys believe that it isn't possible to achieve optimal professional success and life balance. Yet I've recently spoken with a number of women attorneys who've made this "impossible dream" a reality. Obviously their strategies work -- their lives exemplify the effectiveness of their approach to "having it all." Here are brief descriptions of 11 strategies they've used.

STRATEGIES THAT REALLY WORK

1. BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE

Advocate on your own behalf as you would for your clients. Often, the same woman attorney so effective in a courtroom, feels intimidated within her firm. This is natural when you're in the minority and don't perceive yourself as having a power base. But represent yourself as you would a client: do research, cite precedent, develop persuasive arguments, believe in your own rights and interests and prepare your best case.

2. BE BOLD IN TAKING ON NEW PROJECTS

You've probably noticed how the men with whom you work eagerly accept assignments outside of their primary area of expertise. They simply assume they'll fill in any information gaps as needed. In contrast, women attorneys often react first to what they don't know. Assuming that they must be 100% prepared before taking on something new, they decline the challenge.

The women "experts" of work/life balance follow the model of their male counterparts in this regard. They accept opportunities and meet ethical responsibilities through research and consultation.

3. REMEMBER THAT NO ATTORNEY IS AVAILABLE TO EVERY CLIENT 24/7

Many women lawyers are vulnerable to complaints that their family, or other personal, responsibilities reduce their availability to clients.

Try to remember that attorneys who have multiple cases are never available to every client simultaneously. They've always been putting off one client while attending to another's needs. Don't buy into the notion that your family's needs are a greater obstacle to your responsiveness than the needs of other clients. Tell a senior attorney or client, "I'll be available on Tuesday," rather than "My son has strep throat."

4. SAY WHAT YOU CAN DO, NOT WHAT YOU CAN'T

When the "experts" of work/life balance know that they will not be able to meet a deadline at work because of a family commitment, they don't say, "I'm sorry, I have to take my child to the doctor." Instead, they reply, "I'd be happy to. I can get it to you by Monday. How will that be?" No apologies, no explanations -- just a statement of what they can do.

5. LOOK FOR ALTERNATIVE, FLEXIBLE SCHEDULES THAT PROTECT YOUR OPPORTUNITIES FOR ADVANCEMENT

Part-time, flex-time, job sharing, telecommuting, and working on contract are gradually gaining in popularity in law firms. (For example, see Footnotes 2 and 3: Chanow, 2000; Lovell, 2000.) Chanow (2) asserts that the typical firm argument that such arrangements are not profitable simply does not hold up. She cites compelling evidence that firms would, in fact, save extraordinary amounts of money by retaining lawyers with flexible work options; otherwise they risk losing "the best and the brightest" through attrition.

Effective alternative work schedules provide access to good cases that allow equal opportunity for advancement; they are not just marginalized "mommy tracks." I strongly recommend that you read Linda Chanow's (2) excellent review of these options and the factors that make them successful: (http://wbadc.org).

6. RECOGNIZE THE INHERENT GENDER DISCRIMINATION IN FLEXIBILITY AT THE EXPENSE OF CAREER ADVANCEMENT

As Professor Joan Williams argues compellingly in her book "Unbending Gender," (Footnote 4) the ideal worker norm" -- i.e., someone who takes no time off for childbearing and childrearing, who works full time and puts in substantial overtime -- is incompatible with women's bodies and the fact that women still bear primary responsibility for childcare.

The women who "have it all" are unwilling to accept this norm and are willing to acknowledge that it is discriminatory to be marginalized in a "mommy track." They recognize that work/life balance is a political as well as a personal issue. These "experts" are involved with their local and national women's bar associations. This enables them to recognize they are not alone, reduces their inclination to apologize for their determination to find professional success and a balanced life, and empowers them to work for institutional change.

7. USE TECHNOLOGY TO INCREASE YOUR AVAILABILITY

Many successful part-time women attorneys have found that by using email, faxes and electronic research they are able to work from home. This allows them to be more available both at work and at home.

With this option, you may run the risk of working more rather than fewer hours. But if you effectively set boundaries between work and home, this can prove an extremely useful strategy.

8. FIND AN ADVOCATE

Cultivate at least one strong relationship with a senior attorney or a partner who recognizes your talents and is willing to advocate on your behalf.

9. KNOW YOUR OWN WORTH

You can't persuade the powers that be to make efforts to retain you unless you believe you're worth retaining. Partners are notoriously stingy about providing positive feedback. Show work samples (deleting confidential information) to senior attorneys outside your firm. Let them affirm the excellence of your work and advise you on how to improve it. Talk to recruiters. Find out how marketable you are outside your firm. When you know there are other firms that would be eager to hire you, you can advocate for yourself with greater confidence.

10. BE A RAINMAKER

The ranks of women in positions of power in the corporate world are steadily increasing. Meeting on the golf course with the "old boy" network is no longer the only way to develop contacts and bring in business.

However, many women lawyers have difficulty seeing themselves as potential rainmakers. To overcome this, realize that every time you discuss your work with someone you have an opportunity to generate new business. Share what you do with people at school functions, social events, fund-raisers, etc. Some of the people attending will be in positions of power in the industry you represent and they'll be grateful to learn about what you can do for them.

11. DON'T STOP UNTIL YOU HAVE WHAT YOU WANT

In her comments at a recent Women's Bar Association of D.C. Annual Awards dinner, President Marguerite S. Willis asked the 1200 women attorneys in the audience to imagine the person for whom they'd be willing to stand in front of a bus heading directly toward them. "Did you imagine a client?" she asked.

She advised women attorneys to seek support from their workplace for the things that matter most. "And if you can't get the support, find another place to work. And if your clients can't support you, find new clients."

POSTSCRIPT: Many women lawyers find that a personal and career coach can help them develop and adhere to the kinds of strategies that have enabled "the experts" to achieve extraordinary success.

Notes:

1. Shae, Siobhan Helene. "Getting Into the Balancing Act," F.A.W.L. State News, Winter 1999.

2 Chanow, Linda Bray. "Results of Lawyers, Work & Family: A Study of Alternative Schedule Programs at Law Firms in the District of Columbia." The Women's Bar Association of the District of Columbia; Gender Work & Family Project, American University Washington College of Law; Women's Bar Association Foundation of the District of Columbia, 2000. The full text is available at http://www.wbadc.org

3. Lovell, Sandy. "With Demand for Lawyers High, Part-Timing Gains in Acceptance." New Jersey Law Journal, May 2000.

4. Williams, Joan. "Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do About It." Oxford University Press, 2000.

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ARE YOU A LAWYER WITH CAREER SUCCESS AND LIFE BALANCE?

The legal field needs to hear your strategies. If you are willing to share them, I'd love to hear from you. You can send email to This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Lawyers Life Coach is dedicated to sharing practical strategies that lawyers are already using -- from something as small as hiring a virtual assistant to something as large as leaving the profession.

Of course, I will only share your strategies and any identifying information with your permission.

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BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is published monthly by Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., founder of LawyersLifeCoach.com. She brings 20 years of experience assisting women attorneys to her work in Lawyers Life Coach™.

LawyersLifeCoach.com is a professional and personal coaching firm specializing in working virtually (by phone with email and fax backup) with women attorneys interested in developing strategies to find greater satisfaction in their careers within the law or in exploring career alternatives for lawyers.

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D. established Lawyerslifecoach.com to coach busy lawyers who might benefit from the insights gained from 20 years as a psychologist combined with her experience and familiarity with the legal profession.

Ellen holds a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Rochester and is a managing member of Metropolitan Behavioral Health Care, LLC., a multispecialty, multidisciplinary psychotherapy practice in Washington, D.C. and suburban Maryland.

She is a member of the International Coach Federation and a graduate of the MentorCoach Program™.

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NOTE: BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ is intended for informational and educational purposes only. It is not a substitute for a personal consultation with a mental health professional and should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, or other psychological service.

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CONTACT INFORMATION

Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D.
LawyersLifeCoach.com
Phone: (301) 578-8686
email:
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it
Web: http://LawyersLifeCoach.com

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© 2000 — 2008 Ellen Ostrow. All rights reserved.

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