A couple days ago, David Brooks had a wise and interesting column on Sotomayor and the price of professional success. (Link: here). Plainly, Sotomayor has paid a price for her achievements—according to Brooks, her marriage appears to have been a casualty of her work habits. Equally plainly, the point applies to a great many lines of work, not just to the legal profession.
This is the aspect of my job and of legal jobs more generally that has most surprised me over the years. When I started in law teaching in 1986, the universal expectation was that workloads would diminish, that workplaces would grow more family-friendly as women populated the higher reaches of the professions in large numbers. Instead, Sotomayor’s experience increasingly has become the norm. High-end professional jobs have grown LESS family-friendly, as men and women alike sacrificed their marriages and relationships with their kids in order to put in the hours needed for success. My job seemed leisurely in the 1980s; by the beginning of this decade, most of my colleagues were routinely working evenings and weekends, as I was. When I was a kid, I remember jokes about doctors playing golf on Wednesdays. You don’t hear those jokes anymore; nearly all the doctors I know work very hard indeed. Again when I was young, the phrase “bankers’ hours” meant something akin to a 30-hour work week. No bankers work such soft hours today—nor did they do so before last fall’s crash. The list goes on and on.
I’m not griping here: I love my job; working long hours has often been a pleasure. Still, an awful lot of my friends work too hard, as I did before I got sick and was forced to ease up a bit. Why is that? I wish I knew. Is it a good thing? On balance, I think not. Will it remain so after we come out of the current recession? Stay tuned.