Balancing Parenthood and a Law Practice

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Personal Productivity for Lawyers

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Balancing parenthood and any career is a challenge. If you have a law practice, the balancing act can be interesting to say the least. As an expecting parent, you’ve planned for maternity leave, but what about when the little munchkin arrives? Here are three tips from a newly minted law-mom that can help you with the balancing act.

1. Figure out (flexible) child care.

One of the perks of being a practicing attorney is that no two days ever look the same. Some days you’re in your office tied to the computer screen with research and drafting. Other days you’re out meeting with clients or waiting for your court hearing to be called. Some days you can leave in the afternoon or are working until the early evening. Whether it’s your spouse, other family members or other child care provider, your child care options need to allow for some flexibility in your schedule. Having a plan for someone else to care for your child when you’re in court, or just need some uninterrupted hours for legal research can be crucial to balancing parenthood and your practice.

2. Make your office child friendly.

Unless you work for a very un-family-friendly firm, at some point your child will spend some time in your office. Be prepared. Have toys, diapers and snacks stashed in your desk. Evaluate your lighting. Instead of subjecting my three month old to fluorescent lighting for the day, I shut my lights off and turn on lamps. Consider a putting a play table in your reception area. Not only will it help occupy your kids when you have to run into the office on the weekend, your clients will also appreciate it when they need to bring their kids into the office.

3. Plan ahead.

The most important thing is to plan ahead. If it’s acceptable to bring your child to a client meeting or to the office, make sure your child is well fed and well rested. You may not be able to guarantee that there won’t be a meltdown at work or with a client, but you can at least try to prevent it.

So, fellow law-moms and law-dads out there, what tips do you have for balancing parenthood and law practice?

(photo: by author, the photo may be shared or adapted for non-commerical use with attribution)

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  • Nena Street

    Great points, Jennifer.

    I am a BigLaw senior associate. My husband is a lawyer and entrepreneur. We both have robust and demanding civic lives. And we have a 5 month old daughter. To this list, I would add the importance of structure and flexibility in your schedule.

    Structure (particularly around sleep) is incredibly important for babies. My husband and I have built routines into our schedules for the benefit of our daughter and we are committed to preserving those routines for her no matter what. To do this, we both need to be flexible to accommodate the dynamic nature our professional and civic lives. Often times, this means working at odd hours or sacrificing other things. So far, we’ve made it work, but only through teamwork, communication, and a shared commitment to maintaining a very stable environment for our daughter.

  • My family has always been closely-tied to my practice. Now that my children are teenaged, I can’t say that I take any personal tips from this article. However, we do have many clients that bring their small children to our office, so maybe our lobby will be better served with a play table. Great post, Jennifer.

    • Our office has had a play table ever since my partner first opened the office, initially to occupy his kids when they had to come in. But, it’s been such a great tool with clients! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard kids complain when their parents were ready to leave. How many law offices can you say kids don’t want to leave? It puts clients at ease and helps them focus on the legal matter at hand while their children are occupied.

  • Great post! I would add that you need to prepare to make sacrifices—both professionally and personally. You can certainly make the best of both worlds—being a lawyer and a parent—but it will never be perfect. The sooner new parents can accept that, the better.

  • The main thing my wife and I did was work hard at leaving work at the office. Before our daughter was born, we were both very casual with working hours, and often brought work home and sat on the couch working on our laptops all evening. Now, we only have 2-3 hours with our daughter after we all get home, so we make the most of it. And we try to spend an hour or two together before we split for work, bed, whatever.

    It’s a small thing, but family time is important, so we strive to make it happen.

  • Having three children myself, this is an area I constantly struggle with. There are just never enough hours in the day or days in the week. I think the one thing that saves me most weeks is having ONE calendar for everything. I know there are people out there who only want to see “work stuff” on their work calendar, but without daily (and sometimes hourly reminders) of what is going on with my children and home life in general, I would never be able to keep up.

    Also, I would recommend checking with your child’s schools/daycares/camps, etc. to find out what kind of online services they offer. My children’s schools each have websites where I can subscribe by email to their activities calendars and they accept online school lunch payments. This makes it easy for me to stay on top of things from my office or while I’m on-the-go and amazes my children when I seem to know about things even before I see the notice in their bookbag!

  • Grace Byrd

    More flexibility and the option of a kid-friendly environment are what led my husband and me to think seriously about starting our own practices. Counter to what career services advised, I always let the people I will be working with know that my priority is my son. That way it doesn’t come as a shock when I choose him over my career. I’ll make less money, but in the long run it’s who I am and I’d rather let everyone know up front what they’re getting into.

    • Amen, Grace! While the economy and resulting lack of job offers was what ultimately led to my decision to throw out my own shingle, I can’t tell you how many times over the past year, I’ve been able to attend events and activities with my kids where, in my former life as an employee, I would’ve had to beg for time off. My kids know that my flexibility sometimes means I have to work odd hours when other parents aren’t working, but I love not having to check in with a boss when my kids need me. Definitely one of the biggest perks I enjoy!

  • Andy Mergendahl

    I think it’s worth mentioning the dreaded d-word: daycare. While I think it’s great that parents want to spend lots of time raising their children, I am convinced that my two kids really benefitted from the high-quality daycare they received (both in-home and at daycare centers.) I’ve never seen any plausible evidence that kids who go to quality daycare (even 40+ hours/week) suffer a bit of harm; in fact, many benefit in their social development and independence. Our pediatrician told us that while pre-school daycare kids do catch more colds, when they reach school age they miss school less often due to illness than stay-at-home kids. My kids rarely miss school due to illness.
    Having stay-at-home kids has become a status symbol for some parents, a way to show that the breadwinner has a high-paying job, or that they love their kids more than you do(or both). My advice is to avoid these people like the plague.

    • That’s a great point. I’ve been lucky enough to ease into a flexible daycare. My daughter is getting to the point where I can tell she’s getting bored with hanging out with Mom while I’m putting together a complaint. While she’s sharing attention with other kids at daycare, I know she’s getting tummy time and interaction with adults and children that she wouldn’t be getting with me. That’s why flexible daycare is so important. You can see what balance works for both your child and your work and it can evolve as your child grows.

      • And at some point (we’re there, now), your kid won’t let you get anything done unless it involves, dirt, crayons, books, and throwing things. Outside, usually.

        Before my daughter could walk run I could be semi-productive in the evenings, at least. Now, 4:30 to 8 is kid time only. Which is better, really. I love my evenings.