The Ability to Blend Work and Life Together

AuthorJohn P. Box Jr.
The Ability to Blend
Work and Life Together
Embrace Work-Life Blend,
Forget Work-Life Balance
If you pick up a law firm’s marketing materials, chances are you will find
promises touting the firm’s commitment to work-life balance. You might
even see pictures of attorneys dressed in suits on one page and biking
garb on the next page. The message is clear: our attorneys are serious
and work hard at the office, but they also have interesting and fun lives
outside of work. It is a nice story to share, but it is not for Millennials. By
promoting work-life balance, your law firm actually risks alienating the
young professionals it is trying to attract.
Consider, for a moment, how we talk about work-life balance. Lacy
Durham, chair of the American Bar Association’s Young Lawyers Divi-
sion, said, “[Millennials] want to be great professionals, but they want to
have a life.”1 I emphasize the “but” in this sentence to illustrate an impor-
tant point: when we speak of work-life balance, we pit our profession
1. Alex Wolf, 4 Ways Millennials Are Changing Big Law, L, Sept. 17, 2015 (emphasis added).
box50388_02_c02_013-036.indd 15 11/3/17 10:40 AM
The Millennial Lawyer
against life. We treat our professional work and our personal lives as if
they are mutually exclusive concepts that belong in two separate spheres.
Life and work are weights balanced on opposite ends of a delicate ful-
crum. If you focus too much on work, life suffers. And, conversely, if you
focus too much on life, work suffers. The trick, then, is to give just enough
attention to work and life, so that everything remains “balanced” (mind
you, we’re not aiming for “great” or even “good”—just “balanced”).
As lawyers though, we are word sleuths. We understand how tweak-
ing a word here or there will change the entire meaning of a contrac-
tual provision, statute, or court decision. So, let’s switch out one word
in Durham’s formulation: “Millennials want to be great professionals,
and they want to have a life.” That, my colleagues, approaches work-life
blend. Work and life are no longer counterbalancing weights in separate
spheres. It is possible both to be a great professional and to have a great
life. Work does not detract from life, and life does not take away from
work. As Michelle Silverthorn, diversity and education director at the Illi-
nois Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, said: “For Millen-
nial lawyers, work and life are intertwined. It’s not about balancing two
heavy loads on a see-saw, work on one side, life on the other. Rather, it’s
about putting two complex puzzle pieces together and making sure they
fit together permanently.”2
The elusive chase for work-life balance is failing law firms. Although
balance became a rallying cry amongst lawyers and other professionals in
the 1990s, “[t]o the surprise of many, ‘work-life balance’ initiatives didn’t
soften the crescendo of lawyers complaining about their lives.”3 These
initiatives fall short because people want to blend work and life together,
not balance them against each other. According to a recent National
Association for Law Placement study, more than 70 percent of supervised
attorneys “reported having moderate to major problems meeting fam-
ily and parental needs, handling household responsibilities, and finding
time for cultural and leisure activities.”4 In fact, almost half of all polled
2. Michelle Silverthorn, How to Survive Millennial Lawyers, LI, July 21, 2014.
3. Steven J. Harper, Unhappy Attorneys and the Expectations-Reality Gap, ABA GP S, May-June 2015.
4. P  A R, C  WL L  UC H C  
L, T B C   B H P  A (2007).
box50388_02_c02_013-036.indd 16 11/3/17 10:40 AM

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