8.19.2006

Roles vs. Goals in law firms

I recently promised to write about an excellent post from the morepartnerincome blog that offered an intriguing perspective on the work/life/family balance and an interesting solution.

Tom Collins' post begins with what I think is an accurate asssertion:
But if there were one thing that must change before progress is made, I think... it is “firm culture”. Law firms will not be a friendlier place for women lawyers until it is a friendlier place for everyone.
As soon as I read that, I knew I was going to like the article. He hits the nail on the head. As I've said repeatedly on this blog, both men and women at all stages of their professional careers should be accomodated, depending on their needs. It's not just a womens' issue.
He then sets forth the basic premise upon which his "solution" to the problem is based:
Not all lawyers are cut from the same cloth. Yet, given the culture in most law firms, each is judged as if they were. Within too many law firms, success depends on one’s performance against a single “work ethic” standard.
Perhaps law firms should adopt a page from the cultural notebook of commercial businesses that have made it into the circle of excellent enterprises. Excellent enterprises have accepted that there are “Seven Life Phases” into which individuals can allocate their energies and time—job, family, religion, civic activities, health, recreation and self-development. Each choice competes against all others.
Perfect! It's not just a womens' issue. And, it's not just about family and kids. It's about life choices and life phases.

He describes the various outside commitments that employees may have:
For some, when it comes to the Seven Life Phases, their job is their life. For others, religious commitments take absolute precedence over work–no work on certain religious holidays or on Saturdays, for example. Yet for others, physical activities to develop and maintain a healthy body have evolved into a fixed routine from which they will not deviate. Some change their choices over time. The arrival of children usually results in a major shift toward the family choice for most women and some men.
All valid commitments--all valid phases.

Next, he states:
The law firm must make a cultural change and recognize the Seven Life Phases as a fact of business and life. It must accept that one’s pattern of choices is neither good nor bad. How each member works is a result of their choices, and the firm should not allow attempts by some team members to judge others by their own particular choices. The only valid issue is: Given the “Role” one has in the organization, is he/she getting the job done—making a positive contribution to the organization’s purpose, goals and objectives? (Emphasis added).
Exactly. Stop judging your peers and comparing their choices to your own. That goes for all of you Hirshman feminsts as well!

Finally, he addresses the issue of successful and meaningful accomodation:
To accommodate talented and contributing individuals, management must be willing to vary the “roles”, the “organizational expectations”, available to individuals. It means that “work flexibility” has to be accompanied by “role flexibility.” To provide work hour and workplace flexibility without a matching “role” is simply a recipe for failure. And unfortunately, that conflict appears to be the norm today—law firms that have life/work balance options but still hold success in the firm to the same “job is my life” standard.
Yes, yes, yes! Lucidity at last! Someone who makes sense! Tom Collins--I love you. If I weren't already married, I'd propose right now.

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