It’s definitely a buzzword.
It’s an ideal.
It’s a generational marker, separating generations Y and onward, from their alphabetical precedents.
It’s both practical and abstract. The structure of the word itself sets the concept up for conflict and tension. The infamous “hyphen”, a symbol used to indicate that two independent words have some ephemeral combined meaning is also an indicator of forced symbiosis.
Lastly, it’s definitely been a struggle in the legal profession.
Law schools, law associations, and firms have (sometimes begrudgingly) come to accept that this profession, their profession, is in dire need of some balance. The classic archetype of a lawyer continues to be the steadfast technocrat who burns the midnight oil. The worker bee, who forsakes all others for the good of the firm and the good of the client. Personal life, choices, or characteristics had no say and no sway in the legal arena. It is a space where life and work did not need a hyphen, for work was life and life was work.
Undoubtedly, the modern legal profession has moved away from this archaic imagery, but how far have we come?
Young lawyers, particularly in the first decade of their career are faced with defining the hyphen of work-life balance. The professional demands on the legal neophyte are high, as are the stakes and expectations. This is also the same period of life that many young adults are faced with a number of personal changes: buying their first piece of real estate, cohabitation with a partner or marriage, the introduction of children, and being financially independent and debt free.
It’s easy to feel pulled in a million directions given the nature of life and work. The first step to finding balance is to define the parameters of what the hyphen means. What does work-life balance mean to you? Like with clients, you have to manage your own expectations. If you expect a 50-50 split, you may be in the wrong profession.
Define your boundaries, but be flexible. There will be times that either work or life requires more time and energy. Allow for fluctuations and changes, while staying true to your definition of the hyphen.