Header graphic for print
In Search of Perfect Client Service Why lawyers don't seem to get it

Work Life Balance and the Kobayashi Maru

Posted in Commentary, Leadership and Management

I think the world of Dan Hull.  Smart, opinionated, tough-as-nails, erudite.  Great writer. Funny as hell. Plus we share an unwavering commitment to providing unsurpassed client service.  We don’t see eye to eye on everything, though.  Dan still believes in the billable hour.  I have devoted my life to proving it the bane of the legal universe.

Another issue on which we disagree is work life balance.  I read Dan’s two recent posts, Work Life Balance Is Still A Dumb-ass Issue and Breaking news: I will name my next three children after Jack Welch and three thoughts immediately came to mind.  Dan believes there is an inherent conflict between being in a service profession and having a life outside that profession.

Let me start with a point of agreement.  Ours is a service profession.  To excel and succeed, we must be devoted to our clients and their needs.  The relevant numbers for measuring devotion are 24/7/365, not 9 to 5. I am sure there is no light between my position on this and Dan’s.

But Dan’s writings on this suggest that work-life balance cannot be reconciled with 24/7/365.  Here are the thoughts that come to my mind: Hobson’s choice v. Kobayashi Maru.  A Hobson’s choice “is a free choice in which only one option is offered, and one may refuse to take that option. The choice is therefore between taking the option or not; take it or leave it.”  I do not see the choice as a take it or leave it, one or the other.

I have been at a ballgame with my kids and had to respond to urgent emails from clients or step to a quiet area for a phone call.  I happily do so and my kids seem not to notice my momentary disengagement.  On occasion, I have had to work late to get something done to meet client’s deadline.  I do so and neither my family nor I resent the need to do so.  But when client needs do not require my immediate attention, I have left work early to watch kid activities or see a school concert.  I am leaving on vacation shortly and while I will be reachable for important calls, the substantial bulk of my time will be spent with my family.  If those “balances” are good enough for me, they are good enough for all of my colleagues.  One can have both work life balance and be a true professional fully devoted to one’s clients.

The Kobayashi Maru reference?  The Kobayashi Maru is a vessel at the heart of a simulation in the Star Trek series.  It presents the young officer with a no-win scenario.

James T. Kirk takes the test three times while at Starfleet Academy. Prior to his third attempt, Kirk surreptitiously reprograms the simulator so that it is possible to rescue the freighter. This fact finally comes out, later in the movie, as Kirk, Saavik and others appear marooned, near death. Saavik’s response is, “Then you never faced that situation. Faced death.” Kirk replies, “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.” Despite having cheated, Kirk was awarded a commendation for “original thinking.”

I may not ever receive a commendation for original thinking, and I most certainly am no James T. Kirk, but I’m not too keen on no-win scenarios either.  The client commitment v. work life balance conflict can most certainly be a win-win for all.

 

 

 

 

  • Hear hear! – working to the exclusion of family is the tail wagging the dog in my book.