Our latest observations.
Here’s an idea that has become more clear to us at Inter Alia over the last little while. It’s not earth-shattering, but the concept is that prioritizing real work-life balance is good for business. This goes well beyond just saying that as an organization we believe in work-life balance, and requires us to actually figure out what leads to that elusive feeling of having a life in which all the spheres (work, family, health, relationships, etc.) are in order.
We started by recognizing that there is a problem out there with the use of the term “work-life balance”, namely:
- It overemphasizes the idea that “work” is separate from life.
- Parental and professional leaves are still viewed as choices made by people who don’t value their careers.
- Creating balance relies too heavily on merging home and work using technology, rather than addressing the root causes of a workday that is too long.
- Existing systems reward employees who allow their time to be tyrannized in a way that may not be sustainable long term, leading to burnout.
Each of these can be addressed.
First, to make work a part of life that stays in its rightful place in an ordered existence, the goal has to be that that “work” is enjoyable enough to not feel like a chore. Identifying how to achieve this is a very personal decision involving an understanding of the factors that make each of us feel out of balance or ground down by our daily work. For some of us, that would be office politics, or the commute, or the subject matter. Our view is that there is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to what makes a person feel happy in his or her work. At Inter Alia, we create this feeling of balance for our diverse team through a number of individual decisions about the way we work that all add up.
* We choose clients we enjoy working with and like what they do.
* We create business models that deliberately limit our mental investment in the day to day office politics and ups and downs of our clients’ businesses. We maintain our objectivity by doing this, and are more valuable to the client as a result.
* We work as a team to make sure we feel good about our business practices. (e.g. we don’t take retainer fees because we don’t believe in being paid before we have done the work, we set our rates at levels we feel offer good value to our clients given our level of expertise, and we choose clients we believe will honour the relationship and pay bills on time. We have, as a result, no stress over this issue (fundamental when you provide services for a living!)).
Second, we assume professional leaves will be a part of a career for a high-performing person. We don’t look at these leaves as a lack of commitment to clients or to the firm. They are part of life, and we create a climate right from the beginning in which we are open to making accommodations for our team if anyone needs a leave. Our goal is to ensure that if someone does have family goals, they don’t feel ashamed to bring them up, or fear that they will suffer negative career consequences. If they want to be a successful travel blogger in addition to being a great lawyer, we can accommodate that and believe a happy lawyer is the one that clients most want to work with (See, for example, @LynnB). So we support the things that make our team happy. Honestly, it’s backwards from the way society sees it today – but in our view it is often the very highest calibre people who take the most on in their work lives, but who also have the self-awareness to know when they need a break and the confidence to ask for one. I have taken a few short leaves out of the work force during my career. I used the time to travel and gain valuable perspective on the world, its people, and its various cultures, and I use this knowledge on my clients’ behalf all the time.
Third, any work-life balance that is accomplished by facilitating the accessibility of work from the home with technology is to be regarded as only one tool in a much larger toolbox rather than the entire solution. Not being tethered to a desk is a good thing. But neither is having no space in one’s life that is free from work emails. Our approach is to first look more deeply at the root causes of an overly long work day – long commutes to the office, meetings without an agenda, recurring weekly meetings, over-emphasis on responding quickly to non-urgent emails, and not having a good sense of which tasks are properly owned by which person – before expanding that work into evenings and weekends or hiring more people to do it. We structure our engagements to ensure we are spending our time on the most important work we can be doing. This level of focus makes us effective.
Finally, we reward people who take ownership of their time by working efficiently. Our metric for this is broad – client satisfaction, quality of responses, not generating work for clients with needless emails or detail, etc. And overall, as lawyers who specialize in slotting quickly into client businesses, we take the time to understand the business priorities and the space we’re working in, which is the most important factor in keeping us out of the weeds.
In this way, we try to actually address the root causes of why people feel their lives are out of balance and that work is taking up too much of the 24 hours we each have in each day. It’s a constant process of never doing things “just because” but it pays off in the form of happy lawyers. Fundamental, because happy lawyers are great to work with, which is a key piece of our value proposition to clients.
After intense parliamentary debates spanning six years, the Copyright Modernization Act finally came into force in June 2012. While many of the changes to Canada’s copyright laws had been hotly contested, one widely embraced provision was the expansion under the fair dealing provision to include parody and satire.
By way of background, the fair dealing exception is a defence to copyright infringement that permits the use of original works in certain cases, without the need to obtain permission from the copyright holder.
Under s. 29 of the act, fair dealing had previously only included the right to use original works without permission for research and private study, criticism, review, and news reporting purposes. The addition of satire and parody to this provision was generally seen as a positive step in the evolution of Canadian copyright law. By adding these new categories of fair dealing, this brought Canadian copyright law more in line with that of the United States, where the courts have considered parody a viable defence under its equivalent fair use doctrine for decades.
Why was it important for Canadian copyright fair dealing laws to be on par with those in the U.S.? As a legitimate form of criticism, parody allows for the creation of works that ridicule other famous works or subjects, with few legal constraints (subject to libel considerations, of course). This leads to comedic works, which, although controversial, are topical and compelling.
For decades, the U.S. entertainment industry has created irreverent comedy (think Saturday Night Live, late-night talk shows, and edgier animated television series such as The Simpsons, South Park, or Family Guy). The prevalence of this type of irreverent humour in America may in large part be due to the fact that U.S. copyright law has long recognized parody as a fair use defence.
Works of parody quickly become fodder for Facebook feeds (the present-day equivalent to “water cooler talk”). The buzz that ensues creates a high demand for such works, not to mention a better outlet for comics who don’t like to play it safe. So, where parody forms part of pop culture, more and better employment opportunities abound. Presumably, the expansion of the fair dealing exceptions in 2012 to include parody and satire should have resulted in more diverse comedic works in Canada in recent years.
However, from my point of view, this change has yet to materialize. And it’s not because we don’t have the talent here to begin with. If the widely held belief that Canadians by their nature are too polite, that we simply are not disposed to creating such controversial content, then how does one explain the sheer quantity of talented comedians who have flocked to the United States for the past several decades?
It is astonishing to see the number of legendary Saturday Night Live cast members who have hailed from Canada. Aside from the show’s creator, Lorne Michaels, a Toronto native, previous SNL cast members include Dan Aykroyd (Ottawa), Paul Shaffer (Thunder Bay), Martin Short (Hamilton), Norm MacDonald (Quebec City), Mike Myers (Scarborough) and the late, great Phil Hartman (Brantford). And aside from SNL, many other Canadians, such as Brandon, Man.-born Tim Long, have succeeded behind the scenes as writers on The Simpsons and Late Show with David Letterman. In more recent years, Toronto comedian Samantha Bee became a regular correspondent on the Jon Stewart Show.
In his 2014 article for Splitsider.com, a web site dedicated to comedy, on the subject of Canadian comedians who emigrate to the U.S., writer Christian Borys stated, “At some point, every comic serious about their career makes the move to either New York or Los Angeles.”
Clearly, the Canadian economy has suffered as a result of its historical aversion to produce works of parody and satire. Quite apart from the economic benefits that would result from works based on parody and satire, the form, of course, has many important non-commercial benefits. At a time when news is available around the clock, when political and social controversies are just a tweet or Instagram photo away, the power of parody and satire becomes even more significant. Take, for example, Saturday Night Live’s response to the Twitter campaign #OscarsSoWhite that ignited after this year’s Academy Award nominations were announced. For the second year in a row, there was a lack of racial diversity among the nominees. In the face of the controversy, some celebrities spoke out against the protesters, claiming that the nominations were simply based on merit. With its trademark sardonic humour, SNL thumbed its nose at those celebrities who derided the protesters, with a comedic sketch that mocked the parade of Caucasian supporting actors who stole nominations away from the central black leads. Another SNL sketch, the outrageous “Racists for Donald Trump” campaign ad that aired recently, served as comic relief for those who have watched in horror as Trump’s bid for a U.S. presidential nomination rolls on. These send-ups offer biting commentary on serious issues. They can influence one’s opinion on a heavy subject in a way that rational discourse and news editorials may not be able to do. Certainly, Canada has enough of its own political and social foibles to warrant a separate platform for this kind of transformative programming.
It’s not as though works based on parody and satire have never succeeded in Canada. Vintage TV series such as The Kids in the Hall or SCTV could go toe to toe with SNL any day, in my view. Those television programs include some of the most intelligent, Canadian-centric political and social commentary in the history of the medium. The expansion of the fair dealing provision should have resulted in a new generation of Eugene Levys, Catherine O’Haras, Andrea Martins, and Bruce McCullochs by now.
If we want to nurture and retain comedic talent, the Canadian entertainment industry needs to start utilizing the benefits afforded by the parody and satire fair dealing exceptions under the Copyright Modernization Act. Until then, we will continue to watch by the sidelines as American sketch comedy programs, animation series, and late-night talk shows flourish on the backs of our home-grown talent.