Two posts on the same day. Sarah Randag at ABA Journal Law News Now:

Jordan Furlong wonders in a recent post at Law 21 if "we’ll soon be closing the book on one of the legal profession’s most-used and least-understood phrases of the last decade: ‘work-life balance.’ "

With 10,000 law firm jobs lost in 2009, not to mention waves of announcements of pay cuts and associate deferrals, work-life balance has become a touchy subject.

"Even the most active WLB boosters have toned down talk that might earn them the dreaded ‘entitlement’ label," Furlong writes. "Realist observers like Dan Hull and Scott Greenfield have gained the upper hand in the WLB discussion," perhaps referring to a InsideCounsel SuperConference panel at which those two lawyers took on Millennials.

"If WLB stood for anything, it was for the fact that we all have the right and the obligation to make that tradeoff on the terms we want."

But Furlong agrees with work-life balance proponents that in their first few years of practice, saddled with increasingly high debt, lawyers understandably feel compelled to seek jobs with heavy workloads. And "billable-hour targets for associates at more than a few firms simply can’t be achieved without damage to one’s health or ethics, or both," he writes.

Furlong worries, that now that the moment has passed, "WLB will be relegated to the status of a mere generational quarrel during a freak economy."

Denise Howell at The American Lawyer (at

It’s thus tempting to view balance as a fair-weather topic, brought up only when lawyers feel secure about their jobs and alternatives. …

It’s nothing short of depressing, and things seem likely to get worse before they get better. But even in a recession it’s important not to shelve these policies completely.

It may seem counterintuitive, but flexibility and balance-oriented policies are tools that can help firms survive the conflagration. "Eat what you kill" is traditionally associated with the most cutthroat, internally competitive firms. A compensation system where one’s career survival depends directly and constantly on the dollars one brings in the door has been seen — historically, anyway — as inflexible. But "eat what you kill" and "work/life balance" (with its "work less, make less" compensation system) share one goal: to pay lawyers only for work that enhances the bottom line.

As a result, the two systems can live together very well. Layoffs cost firms, both financially (the lost investment in laid-off lawyers, and the premium often paid in ramping back up) and in terms of reputation (from "They’re going under" to "Remember what they did to associates back in ’09?"). When those costs are taken into account, scaling back lawyer hours starts to look better and better.

Deborah Epstein Henry, founder and president of consulting firm Flex-Time Lawyers, urges firms to open their eyes to the reality that, unlike layoffs, promoting reduced hours cuts costs now, prevents future recruiting and training expenses, engenders loyalty, improves morale and quells the burnout and lack of productivity that may otherwise plague those left in a fragmented workplace.

If there’s one lesson from the latest disruption in the legal world, it’s there is no one way to run a law firm. Whether that disruption is from technology, demographics, or economics, there comes a time when you have to start finding 1,000 ways not to build a light bulb.

The NYTimes is overstating the change — "Big, as a business model (let alone as an expression of the national mood), seems bound for obsolescence." — but so are critics of "WLB" suggesting that efficiency or value-based lawyer employment is gone.

Indeed, a clear lesson from the "risky, transient" nature of big firms I discussed yesterday, is the danger of expanding too quickly, particularly expanding high fixed costs or becoming too reliant on unstable practice areas. 

"Work-life balance" has never been about being lazy or overpaid — it was about matching what workers had to offer with what the market needed. Right, it seems a lot of firms "need" a lot less than they thought, something which many employees are more than happy to offer.