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Posted at 07:00 AM ET, 02/21/2012

Justice Scalia steps into the middle of work-life balance debate

The universal quest to attain work-life balance just got a jolt of advice from an interesting source: Justice Antonin Scalia

Speaking to law students at the University of Chicago last week, Scalia urged the future lawyers to look to join firms with a more relaxed attitude, especially those in out of the way locales.

According to the ABA Journal , Scalia said:
Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia (Luis Alvarez - AP)

“Try to find a practice that enables you to maintain a human existence, time for your family, your church or synagogue, community…Boy Scouts, Little League.”

He went on to say that he began his career at Jones Day in Cleveland. “You should look for a place like that. I’m sure they’re still out there. Maybe you have to go to Cleveland.”

Or California, where his son joined a firm. “Any big firm has the basic ethos of its head office and if the head office is in La La land, it’s gonna be a little laid back,” he said.

Scalia’s comments, though perhaps unintentionally, landed on one side of an intellectual debate about how to best maintain an engaging professional life while also being an involved parent. And, about how the answer may depend on one’s gender.

In Chicago, Scalia seemed to echo advice the advice of the best selling author Nigel Marsh.

After being fired from his intense job, Marsh reluctantly became a stay-at-home dad and realized he had been missing too much at home. He turned his experiences into the best-selling “Fat, Forty & Fired,” (Piatkus Books, 2006).

Since then, he’s become a sort of guru on the subject. In 2010, he gave a popular talk for a conference held by T ED — an organization that gives prominent speakers 20 minutes to opine on “ideas worth spreading.” In it, he pilloried top-down initiatives that claim to offer more balance to employees, such as paternity leave and casual Fridays. He said those mask the reality “that certain job and career choices are fundamentally incompatible with being meaningfully engaged on a day-to-day basis with a young family.”

He went on to say that governments and corporations are not going to solve this issue. It’s an individual’s responsibility to set and enforce the boundaries we want in our lives.

Marsh, like Scalia, suggests that budding professionals realize from the outset that importance of living a balanced life.

It’s an interesting counterpoint to another idea that’s taking hold among young professional women thanks to the popular COO of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg

Sandberg, in her own widely viewed 2010 TED talk advised women to “Don’t leave before you leave.”

In other words, she says that too many young women derail their careers because they see families on the horizon. They pull back professionally because they anticipate the work-life issues. Once they have children, they find themselves with less rewarding and challenging jobs and oftentimes leave the workforce because they’re bored.

“Stay in,” the mother of two urged. “Keep your foot on the gas pedal until the very day you need to leave to take a break for a child.”

It’s pretty much the exact opposite advice that Scalia and Marsh are giving.

The disconnect may be because Marsh and Sandberg seem to be speaking to two different audiences. While men are increasingly taking on more home responsibilities, they are still culturally expected to be more career focused. The whole balance thing may be a new concept.

Meanwhile, women tend to have been brought up with the idea that they will one day be caring for children. For generations, they have chosen career paths to accommodate that.

Do those histories mean that young professional men and women need different advice?

What do you think? Is the best time to look for work-life balance at the start of a career or is it better to wait until the moment it’s needed? Does the answer depend on your gender?

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By  |  07:00 AM ET, 02/21/2012

Tags:  Work-Life Balance

 
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