How to Balance Work and Family (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 4)

How to Balance Work and Family (Answering My Son’s Questions – Part 4)

Michael Gollin (with help from Max Gollin)

In 1994 Boston University law school awarded me the Young Lawyer’s Chair for public service.  I remarked that I had achieved a balance of guilt: when I was doing billable work I felt guilty for not doing enough pro bono work, and when doing pro bono work I felt guilty about not doing enough billable work. I figured if I didn’t feel guilty both ways then I was out of balance.  Maybe that’s my Jewish upbringing.

The same formula applies to work and family.  If you don’t feel guilty at work, you’re not spending enough time with family.  If you don’t feel a little bit guilty at home, then maybe you’re not working hard enough.  I always preferred the second kind of guilt.

At a certain point I had more worthwhile things to do than time. It wasn’t a question of wasting time any more but of choosing among worthy things.

To help me choose, I came up with an algorithm.  For any opportunity, I gave a score of 0 to 3 for professional factors like helping clients, developing new clients, helping the profession, and public interest, and for personal factors like Jill, kids, family, friends, exercise, and culture. A high composite score sent me to speak at a conference in Anaheim, stopping to see clients at UCLA on the way, after stopping at Vail to ski with Andy , and after the conference stopping at SLC and skiing with Mike Polacek and Henry, then on to UC Davis for more client work.  Even though the immediate family got nothing from it, every other factor was high for the 12 day trip.

Another factor is that I have been keenly aware that my success at work has been vital to the well-being and security of our family.  I am very deeply proud of the stability that I have been able to provide.

Editor’s note: this is part of a series of advice letters my dad wrote for me in September 2014 when I asked him for some guidance on the big things in life –Max

Bostonia profile

Boston University’s Bostonia magazine featured a nice profile about me, and some of my activities during law school and the past 30 years since I graduated.

(I note that some people, myself included, may be sensitive to the use of the word “crusade” in the title.)

I’m happy with the theme that it is good to be creative and to help others.

Michael Gollin Autobiography

(I wrote my autobiography in under 500 words during two days in March 2014.)

I am a patent attorney at Venable LLP in Washington, DC, striving to help creative people put their ideas to work to benefit society, through private and public effort. Born into a loving academic family in Rochester, NY in 1957, my first job was as a newspaper boy and I initiated an externship program in my high school. Pursuing a curiosity about the wonders of nature cultivated during summers on Cape Cod, I studied biochemistry at Princeton, graduating in 1978, and then received a master’s degree in biology from the University of Zurich in 1981, conducting research on fruit fly muscles and traveling extensively.

Turning toward the integration of science and society, I entered Boston University School of Law and graduated in 1984. There, I co-founded the Public Interest Project to support law students working in public interest summer jobs; 30 years later it remains a vital student program. In my first law firm job in NY, I convinced the Kenyon & Kenyon partnership to establish a pro bono program so I could take a prisoner’s civil rights case. My next firm, Sive, Paget & Riesel, was well known for environmental activism. I settled in Bowie, Maryland in 1990 with my wife, Jill Dickey, and together we have raised three talented children.

I joined Venable in 1998, where I established the Life Sciences practice group and Venable Venture Services. I was able to build a broad practice representing pharmaceutical, biotechnology, and medical device companies, as well as environmental and space technology companies, and leading research institutions including UCLA and Princeton. In addition to obtaining thousands of patents, I have lobbied on patent reform and participated in proceedings before the US Supreme Court and the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. I am proud to have maintained continuous client relationships for over 25 years.

My pro bono work took me to Belize, Fiji, Kenya, and Tanzania, and led me to found PIIPA (Public Interest Intellectual Property Advisors) in 2002, to expand such service to a global network of IP professionals. I created a course in intellectual property management at Georgetown’s business school in 2001 and adapted it for the Franklin Pierce law school, now University of New Hampshire. I authored the 2008 book Driving Innovation: Intellectual Property Strategies for a Dynamic World to advance global literacy about intellectual property as an engine of innovation in all creative sectors, and I have published numerous law review and other articles and made countless presentations around the world. I have been fortunate to receive many honors, including recognition for contributions to the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. Since I was diagnosed with ALS, a motor neuron disease, in 2012, I have been working pro bono with the ALS Association and MDA to accelerate the search for therapies for this incurable disease. I also launched the creative writing blog, For more information, see my Venable bio.