A survey of 351 students at New York University School of Law reveals that those about to join the legal profession are extremely worried about their ability to balance the competing demands of work and family. Seventy-two per cent of men and 76 percent of women identified work/family balance as a top concern. Both men and women were much less concerned about prestige, high profile work, and earnings. As one male respondent put it, “I wouldn’t like sending my kids to child care all day, and I’d rather be around for them.” Seven out of 10 survey respondents expect to make career sacrifices in order to have a satisfying personal life.

The survey report was co-authored by Yolanda Wu, an adjunct assistant professor at NYU School of Law and co-president of A Better Balance, a legal advocacy organization dedicated to creating family-friendly law and policy; Nancy Rankin, senior fellow at A Better Balance; and Phoebe Taubman, a project attorney and incoming Equal Justice Works Fellow at A Better Balance. Wu and Taubman discuss their findings in an op-ed in today’s National Law Journal.

According to the survey report, eight out of 10 respondents, including those planning on law firm careers, were willing to earn less in exchange for workplace flexibility or reduced hours. Women expressed greater concern than men about the nuts and bolts of workplace policies, such as flex-time, reduced hours, and re-entry programs. Graduating women also identified diversity of partnership as a top concern in their job search – 50 percent of third-year women, compared to 19 percent of third-year men had this concern.

The survey findings also show that law students know what they want. “The control thing is a big deal to me… Flexibility is important to me and I think that is related to control,” one woman said. A male student put it more bluntly: “It’s the hours, stupid.”

“We see signs of change in the legal profession, as more firms realize that to stay competitive in the fight for talent, and for clients, that they must pay attention to work/life issues,” said Wu. “Students want to see more than policies on paper; they want to see associates and partners actually using them without negative consequences.”

The survey, called “Seeking a Just Balance: Law Students Weigh In On Work And Family,” is available at: http://www.abetterbalance.org. Out of a total enrollment of 2,167 students, 248 women (24 percent of women) and 103 men (9 percent of men) completed surveys in November 2007. Smaller groups of students participated in focus groups in March 2008.

Reporters interested in learning more about the survey or who wish to speak to students who participated in the survey should contact Yolanda Wu at 646.209.6028 or ywu@abetterbalance.org.

A Better Balance is a legal advocacy organization that engages the government, the private sector, and individuals to create family-friendly law and policy. A Better Balance is committed to valuing the full range of caregiving, from childcare to eldercare, and to addressing work/family issues as they affect families across the economic spectrum. Richard Revesz, dean of NYU School of Law, and Deb Ellis, assistant dean for NYU’s Public Interest Law Center, are members of A Better Balance’s advisory board.

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