In the Era of Professional Women, Harsh Judgment for Personal Sacrifices Persists

By Stephen Furnari - October 27, 2014
In the Era of Professional Women, Harsh Judgment for Personal Sacrifices Persists

Could the fear of being harshly judged for the failures in their personal life cause some professional women to pursue the advancement of their careers less aggressively?

It’s no secret that for the past several years the number of women entering the legal profession has outpaced men. More and more, women are filling leadership positions in Big Law firms and the legal departments of major corporations. This fact was highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article.

Even in the world of small law firms, women are starting law practices with increasing frequency. We have witnessed this trend first hand over the last seven years while operating the shared law office space in Law Firm Suites’ Financial District location.

A female attorney is harshly criticized for blogging about the failure of her marriage.

professional womenA few weeks ago, one of Law Firm Suites’ bloggers, a female attorney, published a very open and honest article that described how her dedication to her solo law practice contributed to the end of her marriage.

The article told a very revealing story about the struggle of work/life balance as a solo attorney. It also provided valuable insight about the people in your personal life and how they may not always be happy with your professional choices.

The goal of the Community Counsel Blog is to provide attorneys in solo and small firm practices (or those thinking about joining their ranks) an unvarnished look at self-employed law practice — both the good and the bad.

In this regard, the article was exemplary. So much so, it got many attorneys talking about the issues of solo practice and work/life balance.

Some of the reaction to this article was supportive, but I was shocked by the extent to which certain of this attorney’s peers were harshly critical of her choices.

So was the author.

Would the backlash have been as bad had the blogger been a man?

In fact, she and several of her female colleagues questioned whether the backlash would have been as harsh if the author was a man. Honestly, I wondered the same after reading the first of many critical comments.

Despite the advances made by women in the legal profession, based on the comments on this attorney’s blog article, traditional notions of gender roles have not seemed to advance as rapidly.

One commenter, Joe, pointed out the inequality inherent in what is acceptable for men versus women regarding work/life balance. According to this commenter:

“I…find it dubious that people in general think it is okay for a man to sacrifice his relationship with his family for his work. It is a such time honored and well used criticism of our culture that it is now cliché (probably has been since Harry Chapin’s wife wrote the poem that became Cat’s in the Cradle in 1974).”

I found the comment, and others like it, very interesting. I don’t think that the author of the article was making a judgment about anyone, man or woman, sacrificing personal relationships for their work. What the author was suggesting was that, she feels, she would have been judged less harshly by her peers had she been a man.

Is there a disconnect between the career advancement of women in law and the profession’s perception of traditional gender roles?

professional womenEven with the steady increase of female leadership in the legal profession, there still seems to be this idea that women have to choose. In other words, they can’t have success in their professional lives without also sacrificing some other area of their life, and then be exposed to harsh criticism for personal failures that may result from their professional choices. There is a sense that they must be completely one thing, or the other.

For example, how does a woman achieve the same level of success as, say, litigator Jami Wintz McKeon, who, according to the WSJ, recently became the chairwoman of Big Law firm Morgan, Lewis, and Bockius LLP, without making some sacrifices in her personal life?

Morgan Lewis has approximately 1,350 lawyers and 25 offices around the globe, with aspirations to acquire more. This new position finds Ms. McKeon balancing a family of four children, a full-time legal career, and leading the litigation team for Morgan Lewis.

This idea raises an important debate: Could the fear of being harshly judged for the failures in their personal life cause some women to pursue the advancement of their careers less aggressively?

In this era of professional women, is professional success and personal success still defined that differently for men and women?

These issues don’t have easy answers. Head to the comments and weigh in with your thoughts.

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About Stephen Furnari

Stephen Furnari is a self-employed corporate attorney and the founder of Law Firm Suites, the operator of coworking spaces for law firms. Through Law Firm Suites, Furnari has helped hundreds of attorneys launch and grow successful law practices. He is the author of several eBooks, including “7 Deadly Mistakes that Prevent Law Practice Success” and “An Insider’s Guide to Renting the Perfect Law Office”. Stephen has been featured in the ABA Journal, Entrepreneur, New York Daily News and Crain’s New York. Connect with Stephen on Twitter (@stephenfurnari).

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