Biglaw and Parenthood Don’t Mix

As part of its ongoing series on Departure Memos, Above the Law has posted the departure memo of a young mother detailing the untenability of being a biglaw associate and mother at the same time. This one is making the rounds on the interwebs, having been picked up by the New York Times, among others. The tale of woe starts at 4:00 am and ends at 1:30 am, followed by the unfortunate word, “REPEAT.”

ATL writer Elie Mystal notes in his introduction to the memo:

I don’t know this woman, and I don’t know what her hopes and dreams are or might have been, but it shouldn’t be so damn hard — in the richest country on Earth — to have a big-time job and be a loving parent. The struggles highlighted by this woman make me sad as a new parent myself.

That is the moral of the story for me—that there is an inherent impossibility in excelling at a great job and excelling at being a parent. Not being a parent yet myself, I would love to know how others balance their work-family lives.

Read Departure Memo of the Day: Parenting Gets The Best Of One Biglaw Associate at Above the Law.

(photo: Shutterstock: 86606719)

Legal Careers, Legal News

  • Jay

    “Work / Life Balance” at any Biglaw, or even medium law firm is a myth. I have worked at a couple of firms, including current Biglaw. All spout off their great work life balance they enable. My current firm “rules” are actually very flexible, on paper. I can come and go as I please, take as much vacation as I want, work from home or any office or coffee house. In reality the demands to bill enormous hours, the unreasonable demands by other partners that you devote ever minute to them and on a drop of the hat (even though few clients are as demanding) and the dreaded “facetime” requirement in order to progress all make that flexibility a myth too.

    I have had partners gloat that they never see their kids; or that they were taking a client call while their wife was in labor, as though these are positive attributes.

  • http://attenzalaw.com/ Karen L

    It comes down to what we really value as a society. There is a lot of lip-service towards family, children and “family values.” But actions speak louder than words. We have no guaranteed PAID maternity leave. And no guaranteed parental leave at all for women and men in many states that work for organizations with fewer than 50 employees (MN at least provides some…6 weeks unpaid leave if your employer has more than 21 employees). Other countries provide up to a year (or even more I think) of paid guaranteed parental leave. People aren’t afraid of losing their job if they take that time off either.

    And politicians spout all that BS about how important small businesses are for the economy, but if you work for a small business, you are more screwed than employees who work for big businesses or big firms. No guaranteed medical leave, less likely to have paid vacation or PTO and less likely to have medical coverage. Day care is as expensive as private colleges and universities practically, so how are people to juggle it all and pay for it all?

    What we really value is work, money and making more of it. That doesn’t mix well with trying to raise a family and trying to achieve that mythical and unobtainable work/life balance.

    • Jay

      I have several small business clients that have over the top benefits. 100% health care reimbursement plans. Full 12 week paid maternity/paternity. etc. Certainly there are small businesses that cannot afford to do this, or the employees perfer cash compensation versus benefits; but there are plenty of large businesses that provide poor benefits as well.

  • Chris Bradley

    As a parent of newborn twins and an older boy, I think there simply is no such thing as “balance” — in the beginning. As the older boy gets older, he can do more and more things on his own. (Like go to the bathroom.) Things like that make life easier to manage. I don’t work for BigLaw and probably never will, simply because I made that decision from the outset. I chose an alternative career path that allows me to also practice law when and how I wish, so I suppose I am lucky in that respect. Perhaps the more relevant thing for me to say is that your kids won’t always be babies. They’ll be babies for about a year or so. Not that it gets less busy as kids get older, I suppose, but there will be time to work more hours later on. For now, it’s important to me to be as active a father as I can.

  • SSilton

    My wife, who works as a partner in a midsized law firm pointed this article out to me. While I symphathize with how hard it is for anyone, particularly women, to balance work and home, I found it disengenous and frankly uninformed. The first few years of practice (in big, little, small, solo) are brutal. You don’t know anything and you are fearful, sometimes rightly so, that every move you make is malpractice. To make matters worse, the whole push for “balance” is counterproductive. You can’t practice law with a rigid belief that you need to be home at 5:00, or never work on the weekend–that being said, few professions allow you to take a Wednesday afternoon off to chaperone a field trip. The practice of law comes with unique flexibility but clients (or partners) needs do not always occur during convenient times. If you give yourself to your practice, the practice will return much to you. When you add to this young children, I am sure it gets even worse. I have seen first hand how women feel they are sacrificing their home life at work, and vice versa. I really see this more as a matter of expectations and perceptions, as most of the women I have witnessed juggling both, do a great job. That being said, if the practice of law was this lawyer’s darma, she would have found a way to prioritize and make it work. As it stand, these are, at best, sour grapes.

  • JeffH

    All business is driven by competition. Whoever will work hardest, smartest, and best will advance over others. I admire those who choose to be a nurturing parenting ahead of a providing parent, I think that is the harder and braver task. But saying “yes” to one thing is always saying “no” to another. Choose what you want most, and then give yourself to it. But do not look back and complain that you could not have both. No one can.

  • A. Bleister

    I have worked 20 years in small, large and mid-sized lawfirms. Most of which time I was single, living the dream of working late, sleeping in and going out, while the “moms” left early, took 12 weeks off and never made overtime.

    I now have a small child, and I can assure you OP’s account of a typical day is indeed accurate. I now LIVE that circle of madness and for what? I daydream of actually being the one to RAISE my daughter. But alas, bills must be paid, college education to be saved for, and I can only hope I’m doing the best by her.

    To my point, in my experience, which I consider to be somewhat broad, no woman partner has ever worked 60-80 hour workweeks without a nanny. So, I find it disingenuous to leave that fact out. OP is an associate, likely without the means for a nanny or has simply decided that the raising of her children is best left to her, a job that is far more grand and takes far more effort than showing up at some office shifting duties to associates to work on well past COB.

    To finalize, I think that OP is prioritizing. She’s placing a career she loves on hold, so that hopefully in time, she may give it her all–or of course, afford herself a nanny.

  • Uzo Akpele

    Not just in big firms, but the same applies to the solo practitioner. Women can’t have it all at simultaneously (sequentially perhaps).

    Bosses want the job done, Judges want to get their dockets moving and they will not wait, clients want their cases worked on, employees want to be paid. Landlord wants the rent paid. Kids need to be cared and provided for.

    Gotta make a choice. Most choose their kids.

    I chose my kids, meaning that I can only take certain types of cases. I have accepted that I will likely not be making a lot of money like some other lawyers. When my kids get older and independent, I will explore other areas of the law.

    Not only kids, but personal and family circumstances (disease, divorce, death) added to kids will make thing even the nastier. . . . And a lawyer sees herself become the kind of lawyer she did not plan to be.