Balancing Act

by Beau Steenken

Recently I returned from vacationing with relatives in California. The combination of a week away from work, conversations with one of my aunts who recently retired from a career in H.R., and seeing my three-year-old son’s unrestrained glee at his first-ever interactions with the ocean got me to musing about work-life balance—those practices that enable employees to meet both family responsibilities/lifestyle goals and work expectations. A good work-life balance is generally recognized to benefit both employees and employers. Providing work-life balance was the impetus for the FMLA, and the Department of Labor continues to stress both the importance of work-life balance and the success of the FMLA in helping to achieve it.

It seems, though, that law is a field that struggles with balance. NALP periodically reports on the number of billable hours associates work, and Yale Law School has used the data to describe what one’s schedule would have to look like to hit typical billable hour targets. Strikingly, Yale notes that it did not include time for personal calls and also assumed zero personal or sick days. Achieving work-life balance in such an environment is challenging, and, unsurprisingly, the legal profession suffers from high rates of suicide, substance abuse, and depression. Achieving better work-life balance is often suggested as something lawyers can do to avoid becoming a dire statistic.

Furthermore, lawyers’ poor work-life balance is a recurring theme in news and pop culture. Personally, I like the Coen Brothers’ portrayal of it in Intolerable Cruelty, though more sinister imagery is also effective. I can’t help but think that the portrayal of miserable attorneys’ focusing solely on their careers to the detriment of relationships and happiness is as much a part of the decline in law school applicants as is the attention on debt. After all, there has been significant attention paid to the fact that millennials value work-life balance more than previous generations and will take less money for better balance—a concept that is anathema to traditional law firms.

Therefore, I think it is important that we set good examples for our students and instill them with habits that will enable them to achieve work-life balance in their  careers. At UK Law, our Academic Success office runs sessions on mental health, stress relief, mindfulness, organization, and other techniques that help students develop habits that lead to better balance. My colleagues and  I often participate in the programs and reinforce the lessons by offering similar advice to students (we’re particularly good at the organization bit). However, I sometimes wonder if I actually set a good example. I tend to answer student emails at night and on weekends, and even answered a few while I was on vacation. While I’m sure my students are happy for the timely feedback, I don’t necessarily want them to come away with the idea that they need to answer emails at all times of day when they start their professional lives, as doing so blurs the lines between work and home. For these reasons, some French workers are actually banned from checking work email after 6 p.m.

My difficulty arises, I think, from the fact that my work demeanor and habits aren’t really that much different than my non-work demeanor and habits: I read a lot and answer people’s questions. And I’ve been doing this on my own since elementary school. I know I’m not the only librarian whose personal life traits and work life traits mirror each other.

Still, I am wary of inadvertently leading my students astray, so I make a point of emphasizing how I do maintain a healthy work-life balance (which admittedly may be easier in academia than in private enterprise). I tell stories about my toddler. I talk about our faculty softball team. I have even managed to play a session or two of pick-up soccer with students during traditional workday hours.

In conclusion, while I want all of my students to get jobs, I also want them to be happy and successful. Helping students to realize the importance of work-life balance and how to go about achieving it are therefore worthy endeavors.

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Legal Information, Legal Advice, and Access to Justice

by Shawn Friend

Dear Readers: This is the final regular post from Shawn Friend. Shawn has a been a dedicated regular contributor to the RIPS Law Librarian Blog for three years (the maximum allowed under the blog guidelines), and it is with a damp eye that I bid her farewell as a member of the blog’s staff. Her posts are always lively, interesting, and timely. Her service to RIPS is much appreciated. Sincerely, The Editor.


Photo from

We all get the questions – anything from a public patron asking for help with a case to a student who has a ‘friend’ with a legal question to (for those working in courts or government libraries) customers who want you to tell them if their legal conclusion is right. This is one of the areas of patron services that can be most challenging.

For years, law librarians have struggled over where to draw the line between legal information and legal advice. Librarians, especially those in public libraries, want to make sure they are not giving legal advice. For dual-degreed law librarians, the concern Continue reading

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Working with summer research assistants: Has it changed for everyone?

Summer is almost here. Finals are nearing an end, and both students and faculty are, for the most part, heading away from the law school for the summer. The library is starting to get a bit quieter. But each summer brings a new batch of summer research assistants—those eager students ready to work on a new summer project for a faculty member. To whom should these reach out to for help? The librarians, of course. And law librarians do what they can to help these student researchers to be as successful as possible, but the logistics of doing so continue to get more difficult and require more outside the box thinking. This poses a big question: how should we handle summer research assistants? Continue reading

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What’s in a name?

by Janelle Beitz

… That which we call a roseWasn't really with it at the beginning of my shift, apparently. #SundayLibrarian
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So reference librarians would, were they not so call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which they owe
Without that title.

I don’t know if I’m getting contemplative because it’s finals time or if it’s the change and disruption going on in my office recently (and legal academia in general), but lately I’ve been thinking a lot about what I do and how it varies from what I thought I was going to do when I was in library school and I wanted to be an academic reference librarian. Continue reading

Posted in Career, employment & reference librarians, Issues in Law Librarianship | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Election results are in!

Congratulations to the new members of the RIPS-SIS executive board.

  • Vice Chair/Chair-Elect: Katie CrandallImage result for election results
  • Secretary/Treasurer: Amy Taylor
  • Member-at-Large:  Emily Lawson

Many thanks to the other candidates, Rachel Gordon, R. Martin Witt, and Becka Rich, for their willingness to run and their service to RIPS.

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Law Library Administered Legal Research Programs

by Jamie Baker

In the typical legal research & writing curriculum, it can be very difficult to delve further into research topics because of time constraints, and the students generally leave their legal research & writing programs with only surface-level legal research skills. To overcome these time constraints and to create competent legal researchers, there are a handful of law libraries that have created legal research certificate programs as a companion to the formal law school curriculum. These certificate programs offer a Continue reading

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The Downside of Prioritizing Productivity

by Tara Mospan

“Do more with less.”  Out of necessity, and prompted by the national economic downturn, many of us are fully executing this mantra and have radically changed how we approach our work.  We have searched out ways to optimize our time and efforts in order to get the most from our day and make the resources available to us stretch as far as possible.  In many ways the reduction of financial reserves that has impacted the entire legal profession and which gave importance to the “do more with less” mindset Continue reading

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