Justice Ginsburg Is Looking Out for Your Work-Life Balance

By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on October 03, 2016 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Can you have a successful legal career and a thriving personal life? The legal industry, with its focus on work over everything else, doesn't exactly make it easy.

Some people are trying to change that, however, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

How Would You Change the Workplace?

Attorneys should take the lead in reimagining what it means to work as a lawyer, and law firms should act on those suggestions, Justice Ginsburg said recently. Speaking at a meeting of the Washington, D.C. chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel, Justice Ginsburg urged attorneys to "get together with each other and decide with each other 'what we want' in terms of workplace changes," according to a report in the National Law Journal.

It's up to lawyers to "make it known and illustrate by example that you can have a home life and work life," she said.

Firms might not be "moving that fast to be flexible," Ginsburg said, but there are some positive signs. As an example, she pointed to a former law clerk with three children who was able to arrange a three-day work week when she went into private practice. The former clerk's firm is "delighted with her work," Ginsburg said.

A Lesson From the Life of the Notorious RBG

Justice Ginsburg knows a thing or two about balancing legal career and a home life. Ginsburg was already a mother when she signed up for law school, and spent three years balancing coursework in torts and civ pro with childrearing.

When she graduated, her daughter was four years old.

Writing in the New York Times this weekend, the Supreme Court Justice recounted those who influenced her throughout her life, from the author Vladimir Nabokov, who she studied under at Cornell, to her law school professors:

At Columbia Law School, my professor of constitutional law and federal courts, Gerald Gunther, was determined to place me in a federal court clerkship, despite what was then viewed as a grave impediment: On graduation, I was the mother of a 4-year-old child. After heroic efforts, Professor Gunther succeeded in that mission.

Decades later, it's still difficult to balance home life and childrearing with a legal career. But it's not impossible, and it can be a benefit. As Justice Ginsburg recounts, her success "was in large measure because of Baby Jane." Ginsburg would attend classes and study until 4 in the afternoon, then devote the rest of the day to her daughter. "After Jane's bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will. Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked."

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