How to Balance a Legal Career and Parenthood

How to Balance a Legal Career and Parenthood
By Christopher Coble, Esq. on July 22, 2019 3:00 PM

There's been so much hand-wringing over the past decade or so concerning attorneys, their mental well-being, and their work-life balance that we're left to wonder whether it's the work that will kill lawyers or the lack of companionship resulting from working so much. And that's just for single lawyers. If you've got a family, is matching a successful legal career and a rewarding home life just a pipe dream?

Maybe not. But it's certainly not easy, especially when you're trying to launch your career at the same time you're expanding your family. Here are a few tips if you're trying to be a good parent and a good lawyer.

The Baby Bar Exam

A recent piece from Tiffany Hendrix Blackmon over at Above the Law highlights the unique challenges expectant mothers face while studying for and taking the bar exam, as well as the dearth of resources for those women. "There were occasional articles about women who were pregnant or had a baby during their 3L year, but most of the time the articles focused on why women felt pressured to have a baby before they began their career," she noted. "The articles didn’t talk about the logistics — how did these women actually manage their symptoms, balance appointments and studying, etc.?"

Instead, Blackmon had to figure it out on her own and revamp her entire strategy after her child was born, and she narrowly failed the bar exam in her first attempt:

This time, I didn’t just blindly follow the schedule given to me by a bar prep company. I took a critical look at what I could do to use my time most effectively, so I could spend time with my family, study, and pass the bar. I’m a visual learner, and not an auditory learner. Instead of listening to audio lectures and videos, I made color-coded outlines. I created and used charts to study. I spent far more time taking practice tests, and focusing in on the subjects where I was testing poorly. I fit the studying in during our son’s naps, and while he spent time with family members. Best of all, he happily snuggled with me while I read him my outlines. There were certainly challenges, when it was hard to balance caring for a baby who didn’t want to sleep or was fussy, and I worried I would fail again due to time I lost studying. But during my study breaks, I also had the joy of seeing him roll for the first time. He started smiling and laughing. I knew that the sleep deprivation, countless hours studying, and wonderful study breaks would be worth it.

So, if you're launching your legal career and parenthood at the same time, just know that you may have to do a little digging to find support systems and strategies for soon-to-be parents, and there's no one path to success.

Law Partners

Single parents are superheroes. Seriously, I don't know how y'all do it. For those who aren't, however, working on your relationship with your partner can be just as (if not more) important than working on your skills as a parent or a lawyer. Think of it as the foundation upon which your legal or parenting success is built. And if you're a married lawyer, it may take some work to stay that way.

If you're the big breadwinner in the family, having a spouse that can stay at, or work from home can make a huge difference in parenting. And, yes, the United States lags far behind other developed countries when it comes to parental leave (especially for fathers). But it's getting better. Advocating for more time off when welcoming a child -- and taking full advantage of all that time -- is essential to being a good parent. (Even if it means sacrificing some work opportunities)

Taking Your Case to the Supreme Court

And, if all else fails, take the advice of the Notorious RBG, who juggled a 4 year old and a federal clerkship after she graduated law school. "After Jane's bedtime, I returned to the law books with renewed will," Justice Ginsburg told the Washington, D.C., chapter of the Association of Corporate Counsel in 2016. "Each part of my life provided respite from the other and gave me a sense of proportion that classmates trained only on law studies lacked."

Personally, we're big fans of her former clerk's idea of a 3-day work week.

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