Work-Life Balance and the Tour de France

We may be a millenium from the day that BigLaw is healthy enough to enable its attorneys to train sufficiently for a spot in the real Tour de France. But we certainly took a spin in the right direction when three members of Hogan & Hartson, namely Warren Gorrell, 55 (Hogan’s chairman), Stephen Immelt, 57 (partner in Hogan’s Baltimore office) and Dennis Tracey, 53 (managing partner of Hogan’s U.S. offices) hammered unofficially but with ample BigLaw fanfare through one particularly beautiful stage of the celebrated bike race, culminating atop a pristine peak amidst the Alps.

Kudos are in order. What is truly newsworthy however is that Messrs. Gorrell, Immelt and Tracey’s taste of physical and mental well being in the altitude of Alsace is newsworthy at all. Sadly, the fact of life in today’s Tour de BigLaw is that attorneys must pay an inordinate price in order to summit its peaks: control over their lives and thus their mental and physical equilibrium. And only once they have so summited (i.e. attained a sufficient level of portable business), will they have the autonomy required to train regularly enough to enable them to peddle a bike up a mountain.

It is undeniable that BigLaw is currently making progress towards becoming leaner and meaner. Gone at least for the time being are ever increasing salaries, bonuses and billing rates, Fifth Avenue shopping sprees for summer “associates,” and the illusion that the efficiency-killing billable hour is the sole viable source of firm revenue. It is equally clear however that these changes for the better have been dictated to BigLaw by the harsh economic realities of the day, where cash flow can no longer be assumed and employees are keenly aware that they are fortunate to be taking home bi-weekly paychecks. As such, we at Hanover Legal cannot be optimistic that this challenging economic climate will also translate to better working conditions for all those BigLaw attorneys whose livelihoods depend on their being available to service the needs of the omnipresent and omnipotent BigLaw client, be it Wednesday 3 a.m., Sunday afternoon or the first night of Hanukkah.

This harsh reality notwithstanding, our advice to all BigLaw attorneys is to go out and buy that bike anyway, disappear for at least an hour every day, and contemplate your life while working your muscles at the same time. And if the price to pay is the wrath of the tyrant-client, at least a good argument can be made that it’s not too high as long as what you’re getting in exchange is the return of your sanity.

Our hope here is that Messrs. Gorrell, Immelt and Tracey are leading by example, and that all attorneys, not only throughout the venerable halls of H&H but at every other law firm, will follow their path. Whether the goal is a stage of the Tour or a lap around Central Park, chairmen, partners and associates alike should understand that a healthier core of attorneys mentally and physically up and down the ranks inures to the benefit of all participants in the never ending race through the hills and valleys of BigLaw.

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