A career at a major law firm usually means long hours, missed family vacations, and significant burnout—so much so that the troubles of unhappy attorneys in “Big Law” have spawned an industry dedicated to helping them quit their jobs. This continuous work cycle was recently described by the Columbia law professor Timothy Wu in The New Yorker as a “massive, socially unnecessary arms race, wherein lawyers subject each other to torturous amounts of labor just because they can.”
But things may be looking up for esquires, some of whom are opting for alternative work arrangements that don’t require as much personal sacrifice. A report recently published by the University of California, Hastings College of the Law highlights some of the firms in the U.S. and Canada that are developing what its subtitle calls “New Models of Legal Practice.” These New Model firms are built on a radical premise: Corporate lawyers can have work-life balance, too.
Large, corporate firms have tried implementing part-time schedules in order to relieve some of their overwhelmed employees, but to no avail. One reason that’s failed is what Joan Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at U.C. Hastings and the lead author of the report, calls “flexibility stigma,” which refers to the association of reduced hours with “negative competence assumptions.” The second is “schedule creep,” the phenomenon of a part-time job slowly warping back into a full-time one, without a corresponding raise in pay. “Slapping an alternative-schedule option on top of a full-time face time culture,” the report says, has not worked.