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Lucas: In 2012, can women in the law really have it all?

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EidtPerspLucas-sigThe ranks of high-powered women who have fought the notion that it is impossible to have both a demanding career and a happy family seem to have lost a warrior.

International lawyer and Princeton professor Anne-Marie Slaughter, who served as director of policy planning at the U.S. State Department from 2009 to 2011, caught many off guard with her article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All.” The article – the cover story in the July/August issue of The Atlantic magazine – has people talking.

It is not the work itself or even the amount of if that seems to get in the way, according to Slaughter, it is the way America’s economy and society are structured. She blames what she calls the culture of “time macho” that rewards those who work longer and harder than anyone else. And she says that the problem is especially acute in law firms where there is a “cult of billable hours” and office face time that provide the wrong incentive for those who hope to integrate work and family. “Having control over your schedule,” she said, “is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.”

Slaughter came to this realization while working in her “foreign policy dream job” in Washington, D.C. Because her husband and two sons lived in Princeton, N.J., she had to live away from them during the week and commute home on weekends. The stress on the family was too much. She decided that when her two-year commitment was over, she would change her original plan to stay in Washington as long as her party was in power, and she would return to Princeton.

It was the reaction to her decision that motivated her to write. There were those who expressed pity that she had to leave her dream job, and others, somewhat to her surprise, were condescending, proclaiming there is no need to compromise. Suddenly, she said, the penny dropped.

“All my life, I’d been on the other side of this exchange. I’d been the woman smiling the faintly superior smile while another woman told me she had decided to take some time out or pursue a less competitive career track so that she could spend more time with her family. I’d been the woman congratulating herself on her unswerving commitment to the feminist cause, chatting smugly with her dwindling number of college or law-school friends who had reached and maintained their place on the highest rungs of their profession. I’d been the one telling young women at my lectures that you can have it all and do it all, regardless of what field you are in. Which means I’d been part, albeit unwittingly, of making millions of women feel that they are to blame if they cannot manage to rise up the ladder as fast as men and also have a family and an active home life (and be thin and beautiful to boot).”

She said that the minute she found herself in a job structure typical for many women in this country – working long hours on someone else’s schedule – she could no longer be both the parent and professional she wanted to be.

Slaughter cites the Supreme Court of the United States as an example. She points out that every male Supreme Court justice has a family; two of the three women on the court are single without children.

Just to be clear, she is not saying this is an all-or-nothing proposition. Slaughter remains a full-time career woman who teaches a full course load, writes regularly on foreign policy, gives 40 to 50 speeches per year, and does regular media appearances.

She says women of her generation “have clung to the feminist credo we were raised with, even as our ranks have been steadily thinned by unresolvable tensions between family and career, because we are determined not to drop the flag for the next generation.” But members of the younger generation have stopped listening, she adds, feeling that their predecessors “airbrushed reality” when they talk about having it all.

So here I sit, wondering what it is really like to be a woman – or a man, for that matter – trying to balance the demands of work and family in today’s law firms. Let me know if you believe it is possible to work long hours but still have a balanced family life. If your law firm or business is doing something innovative to support families, I’d like to hear about that, too! Email your thoughts to klucas@ibj.com.•

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  1. On a related note, I offered the ICLU my cases against the BLE repeatedly, and sought their amici aid repeatedly as well. Crickets. Usually not even a response. I am guessing they do not do allegations of anti-Christian bias? No matter how glaring? I have posted on other links the amicus brief that did get filed (search this ezine, e.g., Kansas attorney), read the Thomas More Society brief to note what the ACLU ran from like vampires from garlic. An Examiner pledged to advance diversity and inclusion came right out on the record and demanded that I choose Man's law or God's law. I wonder, had I been asked to swear off Allah ... what result then, ICLU? Had I been found of bad character and fitness for advocating sexual deviance, what result then ICLU? Had I been lifetime banned for posting left of center statements denigrating the US Constitution, what result ICLU? Hey, we all know don't we? Rather Biased.

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  4. Gretchen, Asia, Roberto, Tonia, Shannon, Cheri, Nicholas, Sondra, Carey, Laura ... my heart breaks for you, reaching out in a forum in which you are ignored by a professional suffering through both compassion fatigue and the love of filthy lucre. Most if not all of you seek a warm blooded Hoosier attorney unafraid to take on the government and plead that government officials have acted unconstitutionally to try to save a family and/or rescue children in need and/or press individual rights against the Leviathan state. I know an attorney from Kansas who has taken such cases across the country, arguing before half of the federal courts of appeal and presenting cases to the US S.Ct. numerous times seeking cert. Unfortunately, due to his zeal for the constitutional rights of peasants and willingness to confront powerful government bureaucrats seemingly violating the same ... he was denied character and fitness certification to join the Indiana bar, even after he was cleared to sit for, and passed, both the bar exam and ethics exam. And was even admitted to the Indiana federal bar! NOW KNOW THIS .... you will face headwinds and difficulties in locating a zealously motivated Hoosier attorney to face off against powerful government agents who violate the constitution, for those who do so tend to end up as marginalized as Paul Odgen, who was driven from the profession. So beware, many are mere expensive lapdogs, the kind of breed who will gladly take a large retainer, but then fail to press against the status quo and powers that be when told to heel to. It is a common belief among some in Indiana that those attorneys who truly fight the power and rigorously confront corruption often end up, actually or metaphorically, in real life or at least as to their careers, as dead as the late, great Gary Welch. All of that said, I wish you the very best in finding a Hoosier attorney with a fighting spirit to press your rights as far as you can, for you do have rights against government actors, no matter what said actors may tell you otherwise. Attorneys outside the elitist camp are often better fighters that those owing the powers that be for their salaries, corner offices and end of year bonuses. So do not be afraid to retain a green horn or unconnected lawyer, many of them are fine men and woman who are yet untainted by the "unique" Hoosier system.

  5. I am not the John below. He is a journalist and talk show host who knows me through my years working in Kansas government. I did no ask John to post the note below ...

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