Resources Newsletter Archive Issue 19, March 2002

Issue 19, March 2002

  • Not Just a Women's Issue

Making The Hours of Your Life Worth More™

Issue # 19
Not Just a Women's Issue


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1. "Not Just a Women's Issue"

2. Coaching Services for Men

3. Retreats and Partner Conferences


ARTICLE SUMMARY: Making work-life balance "just a women's issue" marginalizes it, ignores the concerns of male attorneys and perpetuates the myth that work and life are separate and in conflict. The importance of organizational

culture for work-life balance is addressed. Having a fulfilling life benefits, rather than conflicts with, career success.



Ellen Ostrow, Ph.D., Editor
Ellen is the founder of™ Personal and Career Coaching for Lawyers Determined to Achieve Professional Success AND a Fulfilling Life



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.



"Lawyers don't sit down and think logically about why they are leading the lives they are leading any more than buffalo sit down and think logically about why they are stampeding...I hope that you WILL sit down and think about the life that you want to lead before you get caught up in the stampede."

Patrick J. Schiltz
Vanderbilt Law Review
May 1999

I recently addressed a State Bar Association about issues of professionalism, work-life balance and "the bottom line." A member of the largely male audience approached me afterwards asking, "Do you think I have a balanced life?" A senior partner in his firm, he described his typical annual billable and non-billable hours, the time of day he usually left the office for home, and how he liked to spend his non-working time.

Several important things struck me about his question:

* He felt the need to ask the question privately.

* He cared deeply about his career, his community and his personal life.

* He was trying to measure work-life balance by calculating the hours spent in each life role.

Actually, I'm frequently contacted by male attorneys suffering under the tyranny of the billable hour measure of professional commitment. Often their first question is, "Do you only coach women?" Their confusion is understandable since the tag line on my website does say "coaching for women lawyers."

But in fact, I don't only coach women lawyers and in writing that tag line I inadvertently contributed to the popular misconception that work-life balance is "just a women's issue."

Certainly, women have been more often and more systematically hurt by billable hour demands. The historic gendered division between the male world of work and the women's world of home persists in spite of the reality that soon -- based on current law school enrollment figures -- roughly half of all U.S. attorneys will be women. And since women continue to take primary responsibility for family care, they've been excluded from career opportunities where commitment and competence are measured by face time.

So, it is the case that work-life issues overlap with issues of gender equity in the workplace.

But to label them as women's issues has several dire consequences:

* The outdated and false assumption that work and life are separate and conflicting spheres is perpetuated rather than challenged. The fact is that work is part of a person's life, and events in any life role effect all other roles.

* Work-life issues are marginalized and, if they are addressed at all, it is in the form of individual accommodations for women rather than in meaningful and effective changes in workplace culture.

* When work-life policies are created to accommodate women, men are loathe to use them for fear of compromising their careers as well as perceptions of their masculinity. There are powerful taboos that prevent men from publicly acknowledging their commitment to their children. How often do you hear male attorneys openly sharing their concerns about their children's health or school problems in the office? That doesn't mean they don't care.

* When work-life issues are labeled work-family issues, this creates immediate divisiveness between lawyers with and without families. Simply shifting the burden of unrealistic expectations from parents to non-parents undermines change efforts. Everyone needs to have a life outside of work - not just parents.

* The notion that only women are concerned with work-life balance implies that somewhere there are truly ideal lawyers who have no limits on the time and energy they can devote to work. It suggests that a truly committed attorney will build his life around his work rather than having his work be a part of his life. It also presumes that this ideal lawyer who devotes limitless hours to work will do so without any cost to himself, his clients, his family, his community, his integrity or his business.

But consider what kind of a lawyer we'd be defining as "ideal."

* The "ideal" lawyer would have few opportunities to develop the interpersonal skill necessary for good client relationships, effective marketing, mentoring a new generation of lawyers or being an emotionally intelligent leader.

* The "ideal" lawyer would be too consumed by work to have time to participate in community service or pro bono activities.

* Statistically, this "ideal" lawyer would be at high risk for developing depression or substance abuse problems.

* Research indicates that the child of this "ideal" lawyer might be at risk for the development of behavioral problems.

* It's difficult to imagine this "ideal worker" -- who has sacrificed everything to the tyranny of required overtime -- to be consistently civil, good-humored, calm, patient or thoughtful about mentoring opportunities.

* This "ideal lawyer" may be more likely to judge others according to unconscious stereotypes because he's too pressured to carefully recollect specific instances of an associate's performance over time.

* It may also be difficult for this "ideal attorney," whose priority is to bill more and more hours, to resist billing a client for 15 minutes for the two minutes it took him to send an e-mail.


Findings from the 1997 National Study of the Changing Workforce by the Families & Work Institute indicate that men are feeling conflict between work and family but are reluctant to talk about it.

Recent findings from the Radcliffe Public Policy Center (2000) suggest that for men in their 20s and 30s, having a work schedule that allows for time to spend with their families is their top priority. Many fathers are no longer satisfied with merely providing for their family - they want to nurture their children too.

The number of dual-career households continues to increase.

The number of single father households is the fastest growing type of household.

In the next 20 years elder care will replace child care as the biggest dependent care issue in the U.S.

As we consider solutions, it's important to keep in mind that the spillover from life to work could actually BENEFIT work:

* by allowing all lawyers to live up to their potential.

* by decreasing strain and costs to employers of stress-related depression (estimated by MIT's Sloan School of Management to be $3000/year per employee.)

* by having more emotionally intelligent lawyers - i.e., lawyers who have greater self-awareness and self-regulation and who can develop better relationships with clients and colleagues.

* by improving the leadership skills of attorneys without expensive training programs - because their parenting experiences provide the training. Research indicates that skills required for involved parenting -- including collaboration, communication, prioritizing and limit-setting -- are the skills associated with effective leadership.

In his book, "Common Sense," Thomas Paine wrote, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it the superficial appearance of being right."

As individuals and as a profession, lawyers need to distinguish between "what is" from "what's right" and "what really works."

Every law firm and every lawyer wanting to maintain competitive advantage and the highest standards of professionalism in the 21st century needs to begin a serious dialog about work-life issues.

Work-life issues are not just women's issues.


2. Coaching Services for Men DOES offer coaching services to male as well as female attorneys. Individual coaching is available for career planning and development, marketing, and effective interpersonal and leadership skills development.

To schedule a free half-hour phone consultation email Ellen at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 301-578-8686.

A new page on our website, called "The Men's Room" will open soon.

If you know someone who you think might be interested in "The Men's Room," why not forward him this issue of our newsletter - or subscribe him to our mailing list so he can receive his own copies of "Beyond the Billable Hour."


3. Retreats and Partner Conferences

Dr. Ellen Ostrow, founder of, is available as a speaker and/or workshop leader for law firm and other organizational retreats and partner conferences.

Program topics include:

  • Work-Life Integration to Achieve Diversity and Firm Success
  • Vision, Strategic Planning and Action Plans
  • Firm Culture - Building Trust
  • Attorney Retention
  • Effective Balanced-Hours Policies
  • Communication Skills
  • Managing Client Relationships
  • Business Development - Aligning Firm and Individual Attorney Goals
  • Investing in the Success of Women Attorneys
  • Attorney Career Development and Professionalism

For more information, contact Ellen at 301-578-8686 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .


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


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.



For a FREE subscription to BEYOND THE BILLABLE HOUR™ sign up at: or send an email to: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with the word subscribe in the body of the letter.



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


© 1998 — 2007 Ellen Ostrow. All rights reserved.

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