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Mini Seminar on Work-Life Balance

Mini-Seminar on Work-Life Balance Featuring: One New Puppy, Two Professors, Three Children, and 10 Students

By Bibeane Metsch-Garcia
March 26, 2015

"Mid-way through each session, Professors Chopp and Seinfeld will describe relevant aspects of their week, and students will be required to vote on which one has to put the three crazy children to bed."

This excerpt from the course description for a year-long mini-seminar, Work/Life Balance, taught by married Professors Debra Chopp and Gil Seinfeld, set the tone for the class. Over the course of the school year, students have met at the professors' home each month for book-club-style discussions about topics such as gender-based distribution of domestic responsibilities and its relationship to professional achievement for men and women.

For the 10 students in the mini-seminar, the small size and intimate setting provided a unique opportunity to get to know each other and to focus on concepts not traditionally brought up in classroom discussion. The mood was light, but the topic was of great interest to students who anticipate working long hours, especially early in their legal careers.

Chopp explained that they offered the mini-seminar because they wanted to create a space where "everyone could be deliberate and mindful about happiness." Seinfeld said that, while he and Chopp have struck a great balance, they still sometimes feel the pains of juggling it all.

On a recent evening, everyone gathered at the Seinfeld-Chopp residence to share a meal together before discussing the book of the month: Happy Lawyer by Nancy Levit and Douglas O. Linder. Over the course of the evening, the professors and students discussed characteristics of lawyers that may impact happiness, how much choice students feel in choosing a job, and the value of relatedness.

The "life" portion of the work-life balance came into focus with one child's request for a Popsicle, the need to walk the new 12-week-old puppy named Cleo, Seinfeld's break to help the kids brush their teeth, and Chopp tagging in to put the children to bed.

In addition to Happy Lawyer, some of the other readings throughout the course have included: Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, Overwhelmed by Brigid Schulte, The Partner Track by Helen Wan, and the Atlantic article "Why Women Still Can't Have It All" by Anne-Marie Slaughter.

Work/Life Balance is one of the eight mini-seminars offered this academic year. Others include Theater and the Moral Foundations of the Law, and Social Enterprise, Urban Entrepreneurship, and Legal Approaches for Social Transformation. The courses are designed to bring students and faculty together in a setting that is less formal than the classroom, and to open up discussions about topics that are of interest to law students but are not suited for a complete course.

Work/Life Balance met six times, and students earned one credit. Seinfeld and Chopp recalled one of the most satisfying sessions in which everyone discussed what their "happiness project," a concept from the book by the same name, would be. Answers ranged from exercise, to ceramics, to taking a photograph every day to be more present. Some students reported on whether they had stuck to their goal for their happiness project, including one who described the photographs he had taken in the last month, "27 total, and I remember why I took them and what they are of." As he described and shared them with the class during the March meeting, the support from his peers and professors was clear. According to the literature read in the mini-seminar, this sense of community and support are necessary ingredients in any recipe for happiness.

Students came away with many new relationships and lessons. One student found the concept of being in a "flow," discussed in one of the readings, to be powerful and something she could continue to use going forward. Another student said he had not thought much about work/life balance before the mini-seminar, but felt sometimes that "you have to name it before you have all of the skills. Taking an hour a month to come to this class has given me a strong foundation for making work/life balance and happiness a priority in my life."

As everyone said their goodbyes at the end of the March meeting, it was clear that the group, who had shared a great deal over their numerous sessions, would miss each other. Seinfeld reminded students that, if they needed anything at all, "we are here."

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