Monday, January 28, 2008

Making Choices: Time vs. Money

Here's a story I enjoyed from last Thursday's New York Times. I think Thursday has always been my favorite day of the week for the Times: it used to be when they had the big Circuits section, there's always something fun in the Styles section, and the crossword puzzle starts to get interesting! And I often like Lisa Belkin's "Life's Work" column. This one is about how law firms are starting to become more flexible about the work/life balance, and realize that they might have an easier time competing for the best people if they acknowledge that the lifestyle of a typical big-firm lawyer kind of sucks! According to the article, lawyers at big firms are expected to bill about 42 hours a week, which means actually putting in more than 60 hours of time in the office. But now some firms are starting to allow people to choose other options, which basically mean choosing to earn less money in exchange for having a life.
Deborah Epstein Henry founded a consulting firm called Flex-Time Lawyers and proposes these work time options, under a program called FACTS:

FACTS is an acronym. Under Ms. Henry’s proposal, work time can be: Fixed (allowing lawyers to choose less high-profile work for more predictable schedules), or Annualized (intense bursts of high-adrenaline work followed by relative lulls); Core (with blocks mapped out for work and for commitments like meeting children at the bus); Targeted (an agreed-upon goal of hours, set annually, customized for each worker, with compensation adjusted accordingly); and Shared (exactly as it sounds).

As a single, childless person, I am not driven by some of the needs that would make people consider earning less money. My current job offers a pretty good balance of pay vs. a relatively sane lifestyle, and I wouldn't want to make any less money. I'd rather earn more money, but I wouldn't really want to have to work much harder for it! But if I was a lawyer and had to deal with working 60 hours a week as a baseline, and if I was making, say, $300,000 a year, then I think I would totally love the idea of working 40 hours a week for $200,000. (I'm just guessing at the salary range here, assuming someone my age would have over 10 years at a firm. Perhaps it's actually higher given that lawyers at these big firms are making over $150,000 their first year!)

Would you choose time over money, if your employer offered that option? How much money would you have to be making to consider trading some of it away for a less hectic work schedule? Which is worth more to you, money or time?

25 comments:

nofearingthemoney said...

For me, time is more important than money. Time can never be regained once it is lost (unlike money). Fortunately, I now work in a job with a good balance.

At my current household income, I would give up about $40-50K for more time as necessary.

SavingDiva said...

Since I'm young and don't have a family at home, I would be willing to work more hours to make more money (I have a second job right now). However, I would appreciate the option if I chose to have children and get married...not really seeing those things, then I might just appreciate those things as a type of ease into retirement phase.

Kizz said...

About 3 years ago I left a 5 day a week, 8.5 hour a day job for a 4 day a week 8 hour a day job. My pay was pro-rated for the reduction. Totally worth it. Even that half hour off of each working day makes such an enormous difference. Would I rather be making more money? Sure but not doing the kind of job I'm doing now. It's not what I love. And the extra time gives me both time to do what I love and time to work on having that make me more money.

Alison said...

I went into my current career, librarianship, because it offers such a great work/life balance. My other two career considerations were law or academia, both I decided to forgo due to the time requirements. My pay is OK, but it feeds my intellectual and life needs. I don't have children yet, but plan to in the next few years.

jo-less said...

I often think that I'd love to work a 4-day week and I probably could ask to do that quite easily at my current job. The problem is, I can't see how the work would decrease so I'd end up doing the same amount of work in a rush, and getting paid less for it. Not my idea of a bargain! Something to look out for anyway. This only works if you can guarantee the work will cut as well as the hours and the money.

t said...

Time time time time... and flexibility in time.

I work in a field where "part-time" usually means, in practice, >40h/week, and those positions are hard to get - and even when you're working a lot of hours you don't usually get to chose them.

It's a big issue.

RacerX said...

You could do it Madame X, bacause you have great spending disipline!

A lot of these people are spending $300K, so they need to make $300k! In fact they propbably are spending more.

The only fear is, if you show them the, "I would would rather earn/work less" side.would you be tagged as "Not a team player"

It would happen here...

Ryan said...

It really differs on the place you are in life. As other commenters have stated their stage, a family would call for more time at home. However, I am a young professional (with a girlfriend), yes I do want to spend time with her but at our stage in our lives we need to "pay our dues" so later we can hopefully have that better work/life balance. So I am willing to work long hours if I know later I will be getting more time off.

Escape Brooklyn said...

Hmm, I currently work Mon-Fri 9-5 and it feels like too much after factoring in the one hour subway commute each way. However, I don't have kids and would like to be making more money, so I'd probably be willing to work more hours for a higher salary. At least for now.

Q said...

Time to me is a luxury good. Therefore, in my mind, time = money. It is all about achieving the right balance of earning enough money and having the time to live/spend it.

A new lady lawyer said...

First-year associates at big firms make $160k a year, but we do work an incredible amount. Flexible working solutions would be wonderful.

Unfortunately, the Times overstates how much firms are changing. The big boys aren't anywhere near considering a lot of the alternatives discussed in the Times, and my bet would be that they won't any time in the next decade.

SustainableStyle said...

We're not even 30 and we're already terrified of working too much. We've DRASTICALLY changed our lifestyle so that Mr. Style only has to work part time and I don't work at all. It's working for us and we're SO much happier!

lawyer mama said...

Most law firms still won't allow part-time work unless kids are involved, and at many firms, a part-time attorney is either frowned upon, looked at as equivalent to a paralegal, frozen in place career-wise (not on partnership track), or all of the above. Also, most firms are not BIGLAW firms that start at $160,000.

I'm not even making $160,000, and I'm almost 9 years out of law school. I'm not in NYC. I'm in large city in the Southeast at a large firm in this city and state.

I am, however, working part-time and loving it (I recently had my first child), even if I am frozen in place career-wise. I work 8 hours/day, 4 days/week, and additional hours as needed for various clients. I'm on a sixty-five percent (65%) pro rata pay scale based on $150,000 annual salary. I have the best schedule of any part-timer I know in three states.

Love your blog, btw.

Chicago Rob said...

I chose to take a new job this year with a 20% increase so I can save more, and travel more. I commute 45 min more each day, and work more hours since I am ramping up. But, for the lifestyle I want (which does not include a new condo or car), I am willing to sacrifice some time. But I manage time well, so I still get most of what I want to do in.

hazygrey said...

I work for a big law firm. I'm at the point where I would happily trade hours for pay, as I am more disenchanted with work and my pay is high enough. However I would not have been willing to do this when I first started work since I owed so much law school debt.

Oh, and Madame X, if you were over 10 years at a firm, you would most likely be a partner and be making in the region of $500,000 to $1 million (I think - at big law firms). But only around 10% of associates make partner - the rest quit, or are booted out, generally by their eighth year. It's called the "up or out" system.

BLA said...

Yet another BIGLAW associate chiming in here. I'm 5 years out of law school and earning $250k before bonus, but I hate every moment of my job. I am working on eliminating my debt so that my monthly expenses are low enough that I can quit and not have to worry too much about making ends meet. I'm on a two-year plan: seven months until my student loans are paid off, two more months for my second mortgage, and a little over a year after that to pay off my first mortgage. This will give me a lot more flexibility which translates into a lot more time.

Chief Family Officer said...

As other commenters have mentioned, most lawyers make waaaaaaaay under $300K. The $160K starting salary is for a relative handful of firms, not where most attorneys work. But most of us do work many hours a week. So yes, you'll find many attorneys who are willing to take a cut from, say, a $150,000 salary to $120,000 or less if it means that they can be home for dinner most nights, attend school plays, etc. And I know many attorneys who work 60 to 80 hours per week for a "mere" $100K.

The thing is, this all sounds as an option, but as another attorney mentioned, it can come at a steep price, career-wise - it's a hard decision, especially if you're on partner track.

Jenni said...

I'm a law student, and the thought of working 60-70 hours a week is what makes me absolutely dread the thought of getting out into the "real world". I've worked in big firms in the past (as an assistant), and have seen the toll that the work expectations can take on the lawyers and their families. What's the point in making $300,000/year if you're in the office until 10 pm every night, and are expected to take your Blackberry and laptop on vacation with you?

I'm young and single at the moment, and don't plan on having any kids in the future - but nonetheless, I want to have a life outside of work. Just because I don't plan on having a "traditional" family doesn't mean that I don't have hobbies and interests that will not be satisfied by my career alone - I love to travel, love theatre, sports, photography... these are all things that I won't be able to do very often if I'm chained to my desk for 60 - 70 hours/week.

I'm glad to read this article; I think some firms need to realize that they will get the best out of their people if they don't work them to death. That said, I think that a lot of people wouldn't be willing to take the lower salary/less hours option if it meant less chances of advancement. For the most part, people who are drawn to a career in law are competitive "type A" personalities, and it's hard for someone who is naturally competitive to just sit back and let opportunity pass them by, even if it means that they have more time for their families, their interests, or just to relax. It will take more than a change in human resources policies to make lawyers feel like they can take a more relaxed pace to their work - it will take a change in the corporate culture of big law firms.

Personally, I'd definitely take the less hours/less pay option - but I wonder how many of my colleagues would.

SandyVoice said...

I'm happy to work endless hours at work I love.

Anonymous said...

One of my this year's resolution is "to take some no-pay leave for vacations".
My company affords only 2-week vacation and the office is not closed between Chrismas and the new year. If you work overtime, you have to take days off in next two weeks instead of saving it for the future. I don't feel I relaxed enough last year, so in 2008 I am going to take 1 to 2 weeks more for vacations. I don't make 6 figure income and I always wish I can make more, but vacation is equally important.
Sometime I would also take one workday off (about once every two or three months), just to do unimportant things like a manicure, going to library etc., which I usually have to do at night or weekend. But I feel soooo good to have one day's 'luxury' like that. My husband doesn't understand my thoughts. He would not take unecessary day off during his work. I guess women are better at finding life's meaning besides work.

Anonymous said...

I graduated from law school in Canada 8 years ago and, after paying off my 30K in student loans and building soem savings, happily left my firm four years ago to pursue an overseas internship. When I returned to Canada I sought a non-practicing civil service position and now work 35 hrs/week (more flexible through 4 summer months) in the broader public sector doing policy work. I earn 70K but my expenses are next to nothing (I'm able to save +40K/yr). I'd never go back to practicing law. This is a much happier balance.

Jen Clark said...

My husband and I have two young children and we both work part-time so we can enjoy them more. He works Mon/Wed/Fri and I work Tues/Wed (half day)/Thursday so the only day we use childcare is wednesdays. It saves us $10k/yr in childcare costs and has given us the lots more time at home to teach our kids how much they mean to us and how to be good people.

We both work in our chosen careers (animation and publishing) and while we're probably frozen in our growth right now, it's completely worth it. We'll get back on the career track when our kids are older. We work enough to pay the bills, have benefits and take care of our kids. Plus we've not completely left the workplace, so when we're ready to increase hours we'll be better positioned and more current than parents who completely leave the career path for years.

PS: I got great ideas on how to negotiate this deal with employers in a book called "The Mommy Trap."

Malva said...

I came here from a link on the Get Rich Slowly Blog.

For reference, family of four, one income ($55K). I would definitely reduce my income by $5K if I could work maybe 32 hours a week instead of the 37.5 hours I currently work.

Kitty said...

very interesting question that I pose to myself all the time.

A while ago, I thought there was a certain glamor to working hard and not getting paid that much. Eking out my life in New York was a challenge. It was everything I had.

Now I'm being offered a good job for more pay and possibly less hours. Why in the world am I having a hard time with this decision? Because I'm idealistic and I feel that if it's such a 'good deal' there must be something wrong with it. What's the catch?

People I've conferred with say it's a no brainer. Take the job, even though you'll be leaving projects mid-stream that you've been working on for years.

I'm sure they're right.

Mike said...
This comment has been removed by the author.