The Lawyering Brain and Raising Kids

I’ve concluded that one of the root causes of unhappiness for lawyers is that most of a lawyer’s skills are not always helpful outside law practice, and are in fact often not-helpful. Well, okay, often harmful.

This can be particularly true if you have kids. I’m not referring to the beaten-to-death question of “work-life balance”.[1] I’m referring to whether your lawyer brain makes you a better or worse parent when you are in fact at home and dealing with your kids. Lawyers don’t think like regular people, so I suspect they don’t talk to kids like regular people do. I know I don’t.[2]

But this can be a good as well as a bad thing.

The lawyering brain is trained to:

Gather asserted facts and assess their credibility.
Determine applicable rules.
Apply rules to credible facts.

Does that sound like the brain of a Father of the Year? As far as I have been able to determine, great parents consistently display:

Endless reserves of patience.
Endless reserves of energy.
The ability to “reach” kids on their own level.
A genuine enjoyment in spending time with kids.

I genuinely like spending time with children. I know this because over the years I have often found myself at gatherings where the children were way more fun to hang out with than the adults. As for the other items on the list, well. . . room for improvement.

I hereby sentence you to a time-out!

Sometimes, though, the lawyer brain can be kind of fun when dealing with the kids, if you are self-aware enough to control it. For example, when rough play leads to a broken lamp in the living room, the lawyer brain can help you keep your cool instead of just flipping out. And if you decide to investigate the events that led up to the lamp breaking, you can separate the persons of interest and interview them, then compare their stories, re-interview (whether this is interrogation depends as much on your goals as on your interviewing style), and then decide on your response.

I think my kids appreciate it when I try to figure out what really happened, and that they get to provide their version of events. It’s also fun to teach them that some arguments don’t really work, like the tu quoque logical fallacy[3], or that ad hominem attacks[4] are counter-productive.

Of course, on the other hand, you could just tell the kids that the money to replace the lamp is coming out of their piggy banks. No investigation, no anything. Just the arbitrary exercise of authority. Learning that there’s not much justice in this world (and developing coping skills to deal with that fact) is perhaps the most important lesson of all.

Mostly, though, I suggest that you strive to leave your lawyer brain at work. Because cross-examining your 8-year old for not eating her vegetables is really not cool.


[1] You can balance work and family if you manage to find a job working 40 hours per week, plus great daycare. If you work 70 hours a week, you can balance it only if you think you are a great parent by working rather than being with your family. If you prefer lawyering to family time, your family may be better off with you at work.
[2] Then again, I don’t think I’d talk to my kids like regular people even if I hadn’t gone to law school. I was rather irregular to begin with.
[3] Younger kids use, “She started it!” Older kids point out that Dad leaves messes around the house too. This is when privilege is invoked: I pay the mortgage, so the same rules don’t apply to me.
[4] Younger kids will call you a Big Meanie Head. Older kids will call you a hypocrite. They are right, but you won’t care.

(photo: Young girl shows her dislike of brussel sprouts from Shutterstock)


  1. Ok, this is a hilarious article. I still think I’m father of the year, though.

  2. Avatar Lynne Baur says:

    I’ve observed you talking with your kids (wait! don’t hit “delete yet!). You may not talk to your kids like regular people do—I wouldn’t know, since I don’t hang out much with “regular” people. But you DO talk with your kids like THEY are regular people. You know, people with thoughts and feelings and preferences and opinions of their own. I detect a distinct odor of respect, not necessarily for every one of those opinions, but for the notion that kids are allowed to have them, and even express them. And the willingness to consider the notion that your child might actually have a good point. (Tempered with the notion that one’s opinion, no matter how well argued, may not always carry the day.) Maybe a little lawyer brain creeping in there. :)

  3. Avatar Shirlene Perrin says:

    I have been working in criminal defense for a long time. I don’t really handle things like DUI or OWI’s much so its mostly more violent crime and a tougher group of clients. If they are not guilty they are dealing with an immense amount of stress and that can be difficult to work with also. The transition from working some of those clients to home often requires an intentional transition. There are also the days when you have stress from all sides, the opposing counsel, the judge and your client. On that kind of day meditation is necessary before arriving home!

  4. Avatar Mark says:

    I find my lawyer brain at work when I am with my niece. As soon as she asks me a question I can’t answer I “refer” her to someone else.

  5. Avatar Jean Kiewel says:

    One of my friends said the other night – “All kids are lawyers!’ after my 4 year old grandson challenged one of his parents on the evidence :)

  6. Avatar Randall R. says:

    I dunno, I’ve found that my negotiation skills come in pretty handy with my two-year old. When my wife asks how I got him to do something, I just say that I lawyered him.

    As you note, however, logic/reasoning had nothing to do with my success.

  7. Avatar Ofer says:

    I’m just glad we revoked the death penalty.

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