How to find work/life balance (really)

 November 1, 2015

By  Casey Berman


While many of us want to leave the law altogether, some of us still want to consider finding a way to practice the law in a non-traditional, temporary, or part time way.

Those of us who are Moms and Dads want to know how to do this in order to be more present with their children. Those of us who are sick or disabled want to know how to do this in order to find ways to work that meet our special needs. Those of us who are just burnt out with the BigLaw lifestyle and want to leave the law want to know how to do this as a way to segue out of the law without losing a steady stream of income.

But for many of us, there has never been a real good fit between what we are looking for in an attorney job and lifestyle and what the current set of firms and organizations out there provide.


This is changing. 

There are now many more alternatives. To help us understand the new companies and entities that are popping up to provide lawyers and clients with a new way to do and receive legal work, Professor Joan C. Williams of the Center for WorkLifeLaw at the University California, Hastings College of the Law (my alma mater) has written a comprehensive, very useful and easy to read “review of a wide variety of new business organizations that have arisen in recent years to remedy the market’s failure to deliver business organizations responsive to the complaints of either lawyers or of clients.”

I urge you to read (and re-read) her report “Disruptive Innovation: New Models of Legal Practice”. In it, Professor Williams highlights five new types of legal service models that can help us as we look for alternative ways to practice:

1. Secondment Firms place lawyers in house, typically to work at a client site either on a temporary basis or part-time (usually a few days a week)

2. Law and Business Advice Companies combine legal advice with general business advice of the type traditionally provided by management consulting firms, and/or help clients with investment banking as well as legal needs.

3. Law Firm Accordion Companies assemble networks of curated lawyers available to enable law firms to “accordion” up to meet short-term staffing needs.

4. Virtual Law Firm Companies typically drive down overhead by having attorneys work from their own homes—and again dispense with a guaranteed salary, allowing attorneys to work as little or as much as they wish.

5. Innovative Law Firm Companies include the widest variety of different business models, with innovative ways to cut down on cut down on nighttime and weekend work, reducing partner/associate distinctions and arranging a better work-life balance for attorneys.

Professor Williams writes that these “New Models” help clients gain quality legal services at a more affordable price. For lawyers dissatisfied with law firms, these models provide alternatives to continuing to practice the law. For lawyers who want to start their own businesses, these models can serve as the basis for your new business plan. And for large law firms, this report shows where the future of the legal industry is going.

A major hurdle for many of us unhappy lawyers hoping to leave the law is we think of the world in strict dualities: I am either secure, or I’m not; I either have a job, or I do not; I either know what my future holds, or I do not; I am either a fully employed attorney, or I am not; I am either happy, or I am not.

Leaving the law, making a professional change, and life in general, is never really this cut and dry. It is much more nuanced than that. And Professor William’s report helps us understand that there are alternatives.


Did this report spark anything in you? Want to work this way? Want to start your own “New Model” business? Email me at casey@leavelawbehind.com and let me know.

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