Bar News - August 11, 2006
A Quest for Balance in Attorneys’ Lives
By: Dan Wise
A New Hampshire Bar Association task force created earlier this year is developing what could be the first aspirational creed adopted by a bar association to support efforts by individuals, law firms and organizations to help lawyers achieve a successful balance of the competing demands of their professional and personal lives.
A preamble to the working draft of the Work-Life Task Force Canons states, in part, that: “An appropriate balance of work/life issues is in everyone’s interest. Success in one area fuels success in the other. The New Hampshire Bar Association supports efforts…to align work/life priorities in order to improve productivity, enhance a sense of commitment to the practice of law, sustain professional satisfaction, and achieve better health.”
NHBA Vice President Ellen L. Arnold, co-chair of the Work-Life Creed Task Force established in January 2006 by then-NHBA President Richard Uchida, said members of the group researched efforts by lawyers’ groups as well as other organizations and businesses to provide guidelines and support for maintaining a better work-life balance.
Arnold, who co-chairs the task force along with NHBA President Richard B. McNamara, said task force members split into smaller groups to look at a range of audiences within the legal community and approaches to the issue, with the goal of creating a set of guidelines to help all lawyers, regardless of practice setting or career stage.
A draft document, with seven canons, is currently in draft form; the task force expects to make its recommendations in a few months. It is still considering how best to solicit feedback on the draft language for guidelines that would be new to any legal community, Arnold said.
The various canons address the issues of “work-life” balance in a variety of ways: from the individual lawyer’s point of view, the perspective of supervisory attorneys, and the relevance of balance to collegiality, competence, and professional responsibility, said Arnold. Obligations to clients and their expectations are also addressed as key areas of the canons. The client perspective is addressed in two ways: the need to provide clients with adequate access to their lawyers, and at the same time, the responsibility of the lawyers to set priorities and limits on client contact outside of normal business hours.
Arnold said the task force respects the needs of law firms to meet client needs and its own responsibilities, and it also recognizes that “work-life balance is dynamic, not static—people can have different balance points in their lives at different times.”
Arnold, who now works in the general counsel’s office at Dartmouth College and serves as a part-time district court judge, has been in private practice as well. She says that the legal profession, despite its high-pressure reputation, offers a variety of work arrangements and settings, and might be a more flexible profession than others.
Nevertheless, the increasing competition many attorneys experience, along with the pressures generated by new communications technologies and rising client expectations for 24/7 access and instant advice in an “instant messaging” world are driving the need for the Work-Life Balance Creed.
See future issues of Bar News for more on the task force’s work. To comment on the aims of the task force, contact Richard McNamara at email@example.com or Ellen Arnold at firstname.lastname@example.org.