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Reader Billy Bob Henry posted this comment about the Balanced Hours issue:

Excellent article. The ABA has been making the same arguments for years now. The fact is lawyer work is based on hourly production. Used to be 1600 billable hours/year….now it can go as high as 2400. In CA the bar (150K active members) is 83% white and 68% male-not good numbers in my book. Average work week is 50 hours-Biglaw is more like 80/week. In a study of 1981 female Stanford Law Grads-75% were not in law-61% were not working at all. I think that tells the story of law firms.

Thanks, Billy Bob, for the comment and the additional statistics. There have, indeed, been many articles in the legal press and the mainstream press about these issues over the years, with what seems to be a significant spike in the last few years. It’s probably no coincidence that the issue has gained more traction since law firms started jacking up their entry-level attorney salaries in 2000 or so. The ABA Journal reports that the nation’s largest firms — many based in New York — have now increased their associates’ starting salaries to $160,000.

Now, before any non-lawyer readers stop reading in disgust, a couple of caveats. One, most lawyers don’t make that kind of money as rookies (even as more seasoned attorneys), even if they work just as hard at smaller firms. Two, younger attorneys have been telling their bosses for years that they’d prefer more free time over money; that they’d gladly skip the raises if they could work fewer hours. The ABA Journal reports that, in a November online survey of associates, 84.2 percent of respondents said they would take less money for fewer hours.

By the way, what do you think of this notion, from a law firm consultant and the former chairman of Morrison & Foerster, which is supposed to be one of the top law firms in terms of quality of life for associates:

The ones who want to cut back, I don’t think they really in their hearts are willing to make the real trade-off, which is being a kind of so-so lawyer.

So, if you decide you’d prefer to work 45-50 hours a week, instead of 60-70, that translates into being a “so-so lawyer?” Silly me, I thought the quality of your work was measured by the quality of your work.

By the way, there’s another good article on the work/life balance issue in this month’s California Lawyer magazine — “We’re Outta Here: Why Women Are Leaving Big Firms.” It’s available online, but requires a subscription.

— JODI CLEESATTLE

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