Two lawyers in Washington, DC, were fed up with having to be “on” all the time at the firms where they worked. So they started their own.
Maria Simon and Rebecca Gellar are partners at the Gellar Law Group, which Noam Scheiber profiled in the New York Times.
They work 60-70 hour weeks, but they often work from home, have no permanent office space, take afternoons off to go to their children’s school events, and generally experiment with what it means to have a flexible work schedule in a notoriously demanding, client-focused profession.
Ironically, starting a small firm so that it could have family-friendly practices made it harder to be family-friendly in some ways. With only two lawyers, it’s hard to make ends meet when one takes time off:
Large firms have the resources to accommodate lawyers’ family obligations. They just aren’t very hospitable in practice. Nationwide, 98 per cent of law firms officially allow their lawyers to work reduced schedules, according to the National Association for Law Placement; only 6 per cent of lawyers actually work part time. By contrast, many small firms have the right inclinations but lack the resources to follow through.
But the two make it work, Scheiber writes. Their rates are reasonable (for lawyers), and they make enough money, if only half of what they might at a big firm.
The conclusion of the article is powerful, particularly for those of us who spend a lot of time thinking about families can fit into American working life.
It’s a contemporary daydream to wonder what the workplace might look like if it were run entirely by women, or at least by fully engaged parents. The answer, it seems, is this: There would be no revolution. Working parents would still be exhausted and distracted and anxious about falling short in every aspect of their lives. Ms. Simon says she sleeps fewer than six hours most nights, and she is frequently awakened after nodding off by the impact of her Kindle on her forehead. But it would help at the margins. And the margins are very likely to be the difference between an impossible combination of professional ambition and parental devotion and a manageable one, if only barely so.
It’s possible that all we really need is change at the margins.
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