Work-life balance was the topic of discussion in the latest episode of the WisLawNOW podcast, Bottom Up, produced by the State Bar of Wisconsin.

The first in a two-part episode on lawyer well-being and work-life balance, Emil Ovbiagele (co-host), a small firm owner in Milwaukee, and Kristen Hardy (co-host), an in-house counsel at a large company, lead the discussion with mid-sized firm partner Ryan Woody and Emily Stedman, a senior associate at a large law firm.

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What Does Work-Life Balance Mean?

One dictionary defines work-life balance as “the amount of time you spend doing your job compared with the amount of time you spend with your family and doing things you enjoy.” According to the group, that may oversimply the concept.

First question proposed: What does work life-balance mean to you, and how has that changed over the course of your career?

“I think about it as exercising choice and building autonomy in my life and practice,” said Stedman, a senior associate at Husch Blackwell LLP in Milwaukee who has been practicing law for almost a decade.

Achieving balance was a struggle when she first joined the firm, Stedman said. “I lost myself in that job, and once I realized that was happening, work-life balance became a way for me to set boundaries and start implementing choice and control over my calendar.”

Ryan Woody, a shareholder at Mattiesen, Wickert & Lehrer S.C. in Hartford, started practicing law in 2004. The concept of work-life balance was a thing back then, he said.

“But it wasn’t quite the big thing that it is today. It wasn’t something that we were really thinking about or looking at. But as you grow, have a family, and you’ve got other interests and balance your health, it comes more into focus,” Woody said.

“The thing I don’t like about the phrase ‘work-life’ balance: it suggests that you are on this scale, and you’ve got life over here and work over here. And you need to figure out how you can take a little more away from the work side and get more of the life side.”

“It creates a misperception that that’s what you are striving for and there is this perfect balance and you can just get there, you’ll be happy.”

Hardy, an in-house counsel at Northwestern Mutual in Milwaukee, prefers the phrase “work-life integration,” highlighted in a book called “Unapologetically Ambitious.”

“Oftentimes, especially in this profession, we look at ourselves as so one-dimensional. But we are all multi-dimensional, and that’s how our lives are. The work and the life have to be integrated … working together as partners.”

Ovbiagele agrees that the phrase “work-life balance” is imprecise. “Conversations around ‘work-life balance’ oftentimes feel insurmountable.

“That phrase embodies a lot of concepts. It makes it seem like work is separate from life. But let’s take a step back. What is the goal? What are we striving for?” The group discusses that question and others surrounding the topic of work-life balance.

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About the Bottom Up Podcast

Bottom Up, a monthly WisLawNOW Podcast produced by the State Bar of Wisconsin, features frank discussions and relatable stories that highlight the interests and opportunities for attorneys working to establish their practice their way.

In Case You Missed It

Episode 2: Mentoring and Mentorship. Is there a Generational Divide? (Aug. 15, 2022)

Episode 1: Intro to Bottom Up, a WisLawNOW Podcast (June 22, 2022)

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