Juggling It All: A Study of Lawyers' Work, Home, and Family Demands and Coping Strategies - Report of Stage Two Findings (RR-01-03)
Jean E. Wallace, Department of Sociology, The University of Calgary

Executive Summary

This study collected information from 1,799 lawyers practicing law in the Province of Alberta who completed questionnaires in the summer of 2000 as part of a two-stage research project. In the first stage, 121 practicing lawyers were interviewed by telephone about the demands and stresses they experience in their work and nonwork lives and how they cope with them. Stage Two employed a questionnaire to examine the issues identified by the interviews in a more quantitative and representative fashion. The results provide a comprehensive examination of the stresses and demands on lawyers and how they juggle their careers and their private lives. This report explores sources of stress in, among other areas, the amount of time lawyers spend working, their home and family situations, and how married lawyers divide household and child care tasks and use paid help. Other topics include the ways in which lawyers cope with stress, how they use their leisure time, the support they receive from others, their satisfaction with the practice of law, and their overall well being and happiness. This summary presents representative findings following a description of the sample.

Sample

The average age of the 1,130 male and 667 female practicing lawyers who completed the questionnaire was 42. They had practiced law for 15 years, on average, and had spent 9 years at their then-current workplace. Most (55%) of the participants worked in law firms, about half of them as partners and half as associates. Their median salary was approximately $113,600 in 1999 before taxes and other deductions. Four percent of the men and 16% of the women in the sample were working part time.

Lawyers’ Work Experiences

Participants were asked questions about areas that had been identified as potential sources of work related stress in an earlier study. With respect to the time demands of practicing law, the lawyers in the present study employed full-time worked, on average, more than 50 hours a week, but about half reported that they also took work home regularly. While the hours worked varied by type of employment, about one-third of the lawyers in the study reported feeling that they worked too many hours. And, while most lawyers reported feeling they have control over the number of hours they work and when they work these hours, about one-fourth found it difficult to take time off for personal or family matters. In general, lawyers in private practice reported having more control than government lawyers over how many and what hours they work. Only half of the lawyers in the study said they take as much vacation time as they are allowed.

About one-third of the respondents to the questionnaire (30%) reported having taken a temporary leave from the practice of law. Men and women had different reasons for taking temporary leaves, women more often for family reasons and men more often for travel or leisure. Almost half of the lawyers who took family leave felt that their opportunities for advancement were reduced when they returned. Most of the respondents (64%) reported that their employers made concessions (e.g., flex time, reduced hours) to working parents, although not all took advantage of them. Such opportunities were reported by higher percentages of lawyers working in government offices (77%) than in law firms (63%) and corporations (51%). More than one-third of the respondents reported that lawyers who take advantage of alternate arrangements are viewed as less serious about their careers than those who do not. More females than males reported the feeling that turning down work for family reasons would seriously hurt their careers.

Lawyers’ Lives At Home

Most of the lawyers in the study (82%) were married or living “common law,” and their work situations differed according to their spouses’ situations. Dual career couples tend to experience more stress than those with only one spouse working full time. Most of the women working full time in law (83%) are in dual career couples, compared to only 40% of men working full time in law. On days when they work, lawyers estimated that they spend about an hour and a half on household tasks and that their spouses spend about two hours, although the estimates vary significantly by gender and work status. Among couples in the study, the spouse who works fewer hours spends more time doing housework. The division of household tasks among married couples seems to reflect a fairly traditional gender-typed task allocation, with women responsible for cooking, cleaning, and laundry, and men for car maintenance and yard work. Approximately half of the lawyers in the study, and about one third of the married lawyers have some form of paid household help. Assistance with cleaning and laundry are the most common.

Child Care Responsibilities

Half of the lawyers in the study had children under the age of 18 living at home, and 39% of the parents had at least one preschool-aged child. Most of the women working part time (82%) had children living at home; only about a third of the women working full time did. The comparable figures for men are roughly half of the men working full time and 39% of those working part time. Female lawyers reported spending about twice as much time as male lawyers did with their children on days that they work. Nonetheless, the majority of parents (65%) in the study believe that child care tasks are fairly divided between them and their spouses. Female lawyers are more likely than male lawyers to have a paid child care provider who helps with child care tasks.

Lawyers’ Work-Family Demands and Conflicts

Overall, about half of the lawyers in the study (47%) reported that their work conflicts with their family life. Only one quarter (23%) of all respondents but half of the women working part-time said that their home life interferes with their work. Roughly three-quarters (77%) of the lawyers surveyed reported having missed work-related social functions because of family responsibilities. More than any other group in the study, women working part time said they had sacrificed their careers for family responsibilities. Regardless of their work status, women said that they need more hours in a day, have too many demands on their time, and are overextended. About half of the men working full time and one-third of the men working part time reported such feelings.

Lawyers Satisfactions With the Practice of Law

The majority of the participants in the study (61%) expressed satisfaction with their jobs and with the success they have achieved in their legal careers. Only 16% were thinking about leaving the practice of law at the time the data were collected. Women working full time as partners were the most satisfied (75%); associates in law firms (54%) and lawyers in corporations (53%) were least likely to be satisfied.

Lawyers’ Overall Well Being and Happiness

Most lawyers in the study (75%) said that they were satisfied with their life and that the conditions of their life are excellent (53%). Forty-three percent reported feeling that their life is close to ideal. The majority of the respondents (59%) said that they were in very good or excellent health. Consistent with data from other studies, more women than men reported symptoms of depression.

Juggling It All: A Study of Lawyers' Work, Home, and Family Demands and Coping Strategies (RR-01-03)

Research Report Index