Most parents will tell you that the best way to handle is first few weeks is to focus on survival.
With that in mind, here are a few tips that will help you get through the first weeks of newborn magic/sleep-deprivation and keep your legal career from going down the tubes.
Clients and their legal issues are important. Your family is more important.
Clients come and go, but your family will always be there. Your family will be there to help you survive those stressful cases, tough losses, and be there to celebrate when you do something great. Of course, that means that you need to be there for your family as well—it’s not a one-way street.
It’s not easy to step away from work. If you work at a firm as a young attorney, you are likely facing all kinds of pressure to accomplish all kinds of impossible on a regular basis. If you are a solo attorney, if you don’t get something done, then it never gets done.
That said, you’re only going to experience a newborn baby a handful of times. And while your household always needs you as a parent, it really needs your help to get through the first few weeks/months. There’s no magical formula for how much time you should take off, as every situation is different. But err on the side of family.
Throw your normal routine/schedule/calendar out the window
I’m not out of the woods yet for kid number two, but I have successfully navigated the first month. By all accounts, it feels much more successful then round one. The biggest changes have been: (1) always deferring to my family; and (2) going with the flow and not forcing a “normal” work schedule.
Before baby number two, I was in my office everyday from 9-530 everyday, and then working at home every night. For the past month, I’ve gone into the office 2-3 times a week for a few hours, sometimes worked in the evenings, gone in on the weekend, worked when the rest of the universe is asleep, and had to acknowledge that I cannot accomplish everything that needs to get done everyday.
The concept sounds so simple, but when you are used to your routine, throwing it out the window is unsettling, at best, and incredibly stressful at worst. Once you get past the initial adjustment, however, I guarantee it will enhance your productivity.
When you are up all night, forcing yourself to start working at your normal time can be counterproductive. You will likely drink too much coffee and waste hours on Facebook. On the other hand, if you take a nap when the baby sleeps that morning, you might actually get something afterwards. And you’ll definitely feel better.
Keep your clients and opposing counsel in the loop
Regardless of what type of law you practice, your clients expect you to respond to their phone calls and e-mails. That said, most clients and even opposing counsel will cut you some slack if you let them know you just had a baby. They won’t know that, however, unless you share that information with them.
My clients are used to me getting back to them very quickly, perhaps too quickly. They’re also used to my honest and open approach with them. In the month or so leading up to my wife’s due date, I let them know that we were expecting our second child, and that might hinder my ability to respond in my normal time frame. Nobody complained. In fact, being the great people they are, my clients were genuinely excited, told me to ignore them, and some of them even provided a baby gift.
I used the approach with opposing counsel and received a similar response (minus the baby gifts). Given that my practice is 100% litigation, I’m somewhat surprised nobody has tried to use it against me strategically (but I’m also very thankful).
Have a backup ready to take your place
Whether you work at a firm or run your own firm, you need to have someone (or multiple people) lined up to step into your shoes when the baby comes.
You want to get someone in place in advance, because scrambling at the last second is problematic for lots of reasons. One, the life of a new parent is riddled with sleep-deprived delirium. Two, you’ve got enough on your plate without having to find someone to step into your shoes. Three, you’re putting your replacement in a bad position when you ask them to step up at the eleventh hour.
If you work at a firm, try and get your backup involved in your cases prior to your departure. If you are a solo attorney, talk to your clients about the potential for someone else to step in and hopefully let everyone meet.
At a minimum, set aside some time to bring your backup up to speed on the cases: what’s coming up and what they might need to do. The better you prepare them, the easier it will be for you to step aside and enjoy that little one!
Oh, and try and sleep when the baby sleeps. It’s genius.