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Lawyers battle time of their lives

Briefs

Nearly three-quarters of women lawyers with children were feeling overloaded with “too much to do and too little time to do it in”, according to a national survey of work balance in the professions.

The survey revealed 71 per cent of working lawyer mothers were suffering “role overload”, compared to 49 per cent of male lawyers with dependants.

And across the professions generally, part-time women workers felt more overloaded than women working full-time (52 per cent compared to 42 per cent), according to the 2008 Annual Business and Professions Study conducted by Beaton Consulting.

When compared to other professions, lawyers fared the worst across a range of work-life balance scenarios, including the highest levels of work interfering with family (46 per cent for women with children and 45 per cent for men with children).

Victorian Women Lawyers convenor Christine Melis said the findings confirmed many women had difficulty accessing and maintaining a flexible work arrangement “without feeling like they are doing a five-day billable week in three or four days”.

“This is a wake-up call to the big city firms to step up their family friendliness if they want to recruit and retain qualified and talented female workers,” she said.

Ms Melis said a whole-industry approach was required, with management leading the way to reduce workloads, increase the number of supportive partners, challenge the long-hours culture, provide training to help employees manage part-time and have flexible hours and part-time arrangements without hiding this fact from clients.

Ms Melis said the legal profession was amenable to a teamwork approach which would reduce hours worked while maintaining service to clients.

LIV president Tony Burke said the survey findings reflected the “selling of time paradigm” of lawyers.

“We seem to be stuck with this selling of time model so income is a function of the number of hours you can stay awake,” he told the LIJ.

“It highlights the challenge for the profession of finding new ways of measuring the value of what we provide and charge, so that we can move beyond the tyranny of the six-minute billable unit.”

Nearly 12,000 managers and professionals responded to the work-balance survey, which was part of a broader survey of those working in professions.

The report found the respondents typically spent an average of 48.4 hours in paid work each week, plus nine hours in home chores, 4.2 hours doing extra work at home, and 5.6 hours commuting to work.

Nearly 70 per cent extended their work day and spent time working from home, with about six hours each week of unpaid overtime.

“The strong link between hours in work and role overload, work-life conflict, burnout and physical and mental health problems suggest that these work loads are not sustainable over the long term,” the report said.

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