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Is it possible for parents to practice law and have a family life?

Juggling both a demanding career and family responsibilities is becoming increasingly difficult for legal professionals. The intense pressure of the billable-hour model, the expectation of being on call at all hours, and the competitive landscape of the industry leaves little room for flexibility and balance. According to the National Association for Law Placement, more than 70 percent of those surveyed reported having a significant problem finding time for family and leisure, as well as personal and health needs.

Nowadays, it’s common to see both mother and father working full time, translating into more requests for firms to provide flexible options conducive to parenthood. The Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute’s 2019 State of U.S. Small Law Firms Report,  found that nearly 80 percent of attorneys agree work/life balance is an important measure of success. While some offices have been seen making small strides to accommodate these demands, such as allowing parents to work from home during the day, attorneys are frequently feeling the pressure to sign on later in the evening to finish up what they left behind at the office. Outside of traditional parenting, people are also facing responsibilities that require time off during the day or on weekends, such as caring for an elderly loved one or continuing their education. 

For Rob Sullivan, a products liability attorney in Kansas City, it’s all about adhering to a regular schedule for the sake of his two kids. “Finding a balance between my personal and professional life is extremely difficult,” Sullivan said. “I had my first son during my final year of law school, which required a lot of balancing. I made a promise to myself that I would leave at 5 p.m. every day so my kids would see me at dinner time.”

A new approach

What firms are beginning to realize is that an out-of-the-box approach is necessary to appeal to high-achieving working parents. New models for practicing law are now popping up around various firms, going head-to-head with the traditional pricing and profit model many firms continue to use. Instead of rewarding those who bill the most hours, these firms are instead introducing a more manageable way to work for their employees.

This includes offering options such as a standard 40- to 50-hour “flexible” work week. Although still required to work full time, attorneys can choose when they work, offering more control over their daily schedule. And with the accessibility cloud-based technology brings, this kind of approach to practicing law is becoming much easier for firms to achieve.

Part-time offerings are also becoming more popular, available to attorneys looking for more time at home but still interested in progressing in their career. Only a few years ago, a decision to work part time would be seen by firm partners as taking a step back in one’s career. Now, attorneys are able to work more efficiently with the help of legal research software, call centers, and business management tools, making a shorter work week realistic for anyone.

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