Family-Friendly Firms? What About Family-Friendly Faculties?

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 9 2008 10:38 PM

Family-Friendly Firms? What About Family-Friendly Faculties?

Watching the debate on family-friendly firms, I can't help but think that the conversation's focus is a bit too narrow. 

A midlevel associate at a large law firm who moonlights as a father and husband, I'm familiar with the difficulty of maintaining "work-life balance." (I use that goofy term under protest.) That said, I've found that pursuit of partnership is no more daunting than pursuit of an academic post. Let me explain.

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As much as I genuinely enjoy my job, I will confess that from time to time I've longed to pursue an teaching position. Such a move, however, seems almost impossible to pull off without imposing substantial burdens on my family. Because a fairly substantial body of written work is now a prerequisite to applying seriously for academic posts, a young associate's path to the ivory tower now nearly requires a one- or two-year stint in a research fellowship, "VAP," or other pre-teaching program. 

Thus, pursuit of an academic post requires, above all else, mobility—the ability to move among perhaps three cities in three years. Combine that with the financial burdens of spending one or two years in fellowships/VAPs and the geographical flexibility favored in the AALS "meat market," and you get a nightmare scenario for a young father or mother.

Granted, my observations are not from experience; I've not subjected myself to the trials of pursuing an academic post. That said, I'd be curious to see the demographic data on the last couple of years' hires. I would bet that the last few years' new professors tend not to have kids older than 3.  I would love to be proved wrong, but I strongly suspect that I'm right.

These family-unfriendly aspects of the teaching-job market don't strike me as nefarious; they're fairly predictable. After all, there are only so many teaching jobs to go around, so of course they'll go to the applicants best-suited to endure the trials necessary to build up CV and move to the available jobs.

Of course, such are the very reasons why big-city, high-salary law firms are relatively family-unfriendly: There are only so many jobs to go around, and the attorneys willing to put in the hours and effort are the ones who will collect the prestige and paychecks. People looking for less job responsibility can find it in smaller cities or in big-city firms with lighter workloads (and smaller paychecks). 

I've managed to find a job that offers me interesting work, good pay, and a manageable workload. I could move to a firm that pays more and expects more, or I could move to a firm (like the one pitched to me by a headhunter recently) that offers a much lighter workload with a concomitant reduction in pay. Neither option has tempted me.

What's the comparable set of options when it comes to the entry-level teaching market? I've not yet seen it.

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