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izzy2018

Female Lawyers With Kids - Advice?

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So I know that there are multiple threads on the topic of being a lawyer and having kids. I went through a lot of them and felt that perhaps it would be helpful to get some general advice going for those of us who are just starting out in this field. I am narrowing this down to just female lawyers because I would really like to hear about how you:

1) Worked long hours in a high stress job while going through the physical changes that come with pregnancy (especially the lack of sleep and energy that I keep hearing about);

2) Revealed to your employer that you were pregnant; and

3) Returned to work after maternity leave (What was it like to return after a chunk of time off? Did you feel that it really affected your progress as a lawyer?).

I am especially interested in hearing from those who decided to do this fairly early in their careers. Would you do anything differently? I know that having kids is the biggest blessing and most would say that they wouldn't change a thing, but if you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

Looking forward to some potential responses. I am finding it difficult to connect with female lawyers who went through this process. Very few seem to openly discuss their experiences, so I figured a forum like this could be helpful.

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1) Got signed off for a few weeks by my doctor due to severe morning sickness and other issues and then had my hours restricted, and when I was back, basically did nothing but work and go home and sleep - called on my tribe to do everything else.

2) Due to #1, they knew pretty much right away.

3) Didn't take a long leave, and worked part-time/from home as soon as I could.

In a perfect world, I wouldn't work and raise kids at the same time at all but given that it's not a perfect world, I am fine with the way it was. 

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@izzy2018  I prefer not to share too much personal information on the forum but have sent you a PM. 

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3 hours ago, izzy2018 said:

So I know that there are multiple threads on the topic of being a lawyer and having kids. I went through a lot of them and felt that perhaps it would be helpful to get some general advice going for those of us who are just starting out in this field. I am narrowing this down to just female lawyers because I would really like to hear about how you:

1) Worked long hours in a high stress job while going through the physical changes that come with pregnancy (especially the lack of sleep and energy that I keep hearing about);

2) Revealed to your employer that you were pregnant; and

3) Returned to work after maternity leave (What was it like to return after a chunk of time off? Did you feel that it really affected your progress as a lawyer?).

I am especially interested in hearing from those who decided to do this fairly early in their careers. Would you do anything differently? I know that having kids is the biggest blessing and most would say that they wouldn't change a thing, but if you had one piece of advice to give, what would it be?

Looking forward to some potential responses. I am finding it difficult to connect with female lawyers who went through this process. Very few seem to openly discuss their experiences, so I figured a forum like this could be helpful.

I'm not sure how helpful my personal experiences would be because it sounds like you may be asking about a scenario in a larger firm and my law and pregnancy experience is from small firms. If you do want to know about those circumstances, I can share.

In terms of the general, overall question, I can say that pregnancy and child-raising are not always predictable and plannable in the same way as other areas of life. That's hard to grasp for some lawyers who are often Type A people who have planned everything else in their life so far and generally know way ahead of time where they want to go to school, article, get hired back etc. I didn't ever plan to get pregnant - sometimes it just happens, and you have to deal with it. 

Even if you plan to get pregnant, you might take a long time to conceive. You might need medical help. You might never conceive on your own. And even if you do get pregnant, there is any range of ways you might feel. Some women have very few symptoms and don't experience much loss of energy and sleep. Some women struggle more but still manage to work. I was one of the unlucky few who was seriously debilitated and couldn't work at all for most of the pregnancy - no one thinks that will be them, but it could be. You could be put on bed rest by your doctor. You could have a miscarriage, or more than one. You could deliver prematurely and have to deal with a baby in NICU. You could have multiples. Your kid could be born with a serious condition needing surgery or other treatment. You just don't know, and anything is possible. So in terms of your first question, some women won't have too hard of a time working long hours while pregnant, a few won't be able to do it at all, and most can probably do it but find it a bit tough at the beginning and the end, and will use techniques like sneaking naps during the day, using various home remedies or meds to cope with nausea and other symptoms, and reduce their other responsibilities to focus on work and get more sleep outside of work. And for some, the real struggles will come after delivery.

In terms of telling your employer, that's a personal decision that will probably also depend on the pregnancy and the symptoms. I am so ill when pregnant that everyone knows and it is impossible to hide. I think, assuming a more standard pregnancy, most women wait until sometime in the early to mid second trimester to tell, when the risk of miscarriage is down and they may be starting to show and are having to go to more appointments, etc. You don't want to wait too long because your firm needs time to plan for your absence. Getting pregnant happens, it's something employers have to deal with, and it shouldn't be a big deal to tell them. I would ask them for a few minutes to sit down when they have time and just tell them. I would go in with some sort of a plan as to what you want to do for maternity leave, that is realistic and based on whatever policies and practices they have. 

As to maternity leave, again, my experience is pretty different from that of a woman in a larger firm and may not be helpful. I personally think that women should try to avoid the longer leaves of 12 or 18 months if they are concerned about career derailment and try to take something less than that. But this will depend on each situation. Also as above, experiences after delivery vary. You might have post-partum depression which is no joke. You might have a premature or sick kid or have an infection or other issue yourself. 

In terms of derailing your career, yes, I feel that time off for pregnancy and maternity leave have set my career back, but I have my own practice and clients to manage. If you are in a firm where you really don't have that and do work for other people, it may or may not be less of an issue - I can't say, and hopefully others will speak to that. I have heard that sometimes it's better to take a mat leave or two in the 3-5 or 6 year range, after you have proven yourself enough that they want you to stay but before you have too many of your own files and responsibilities. 

Anecdotally, from conversations with others, I think that there are still perceptions that women taking mat leave are an inconvenience and are not committed, but there are also efforts to become more enlightened and modern about this issue. I think the resentment comes not so much from someone taking one mat leave, but from them taking one, coming back and then leaving on another one right away, and then maybe another one. I know friends who complain about a co-worker who took "three mat leaves in five years." That would definitely lead to you falling behind your peers in seniority and experience - but it may be worth it to you, and you can't legally be fired for it, so what people think and say behind your back may not be important. 

There is also the issue of whether you will want to come back full steam ahead to work as you did before having a baby, or whether you are going to want more flexible hours, to work part-time or work from home and so on. And it's hard to know that till you are actually a mother. You may think you will want to work and then realize you're not ready, or think you'll want to be home more but then really miss work. And of course you have to navigate the issue of child care - what hours you work after mat leave may depend on whether you're using day care with a hard pick-up time or whether you have a spouse or family member or nanny providing care for the later hours. 

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1 hour ago, providence said:

I'm not sure how helpful my personal experiences would be because it sounds like you may be asking about a scenario in a larger firm and my law and pregnancy experience is from small firms. If you do want to know about those circumstances, I can share.

In terms of the general, overall question, I can say that pregnancy and child-raising are not always predictable and plannable in the same way as other areas of life. That's hard to grasp for some lawyers who are often Type A people who have planned everything else in their life so far and generally know way ahead of time where they want to go to school, article, get hired back etc. I didn't ever plan to get pregnant - sometimes it just happens, and you have to deal with it. 

Even if you plan to get pregnant, you might take a long time to conceive. You might need medical help. You might never conceive on your own. And even if you do get pregnant, there is any range of ways you might feel. Some women have very few symptoms and don't experience much loss of energy and sleep. Some women struggle more but still manage to work. I was one of the unlucky few who was seriously debilitated and couldn't work at all for most of the pregnancy - no one thinks that will be them, but it could be. You could be put on bed rest by your doctor. You could have a miscarriage, or more than one. You could deliver prematurely and have to deal with a baby in NICU. You could have multiples. Your kid could be born with a serious condition needing surgery or other treatment. You just don't know, and anything is possible. So in terms of your first question, some women won't have too hard of a time working long hours while pregnant, a few won't be able to do it at all, and most can probably do it but find it a bit tough at the beginning and the end, and will use techniques like sneaking naps during the day, using various home remedies or meds to cope with nausea and other symptoms, and reduce their other responsibilities to focus on work and get more sleep outside of work. And for some, the real struggles will come after delivery.

In terms of telling your employer, that's a personal decision that will probably also depend on the pregnancy and the symptoms. I am so ill when pregnant that everyone knows and it is impossible to hide. I think, assuming a more standard pregnancy, most women wait until sometime in the early to mid second trimester to tell, when the risk of miscarriage is down and they may be starting to show and are having to go to more appointments, etc. You don't want to wait too long because your firm needs time to plan for your absence. Getting pregnant happens, it's something employers have to deal with, and it shouldn't be a big deal to tell them. I would ask them for a few minutes to sit down when they have time and just tell them. I would go in with some sort of a plan as to what you want to do for maternity leave, that is realistic and based on whatever policies and practices they have. 

As to maternity leave, again, my experience is pretty different from that of a woman in a larger firm and may not be helpful. I personally think that women should try to avoid the longer leaves of 12 or 18 months if they are concerned about career derailment and try to take something less than that. But this will depend on each situation. Also as above, experiences after delivery vary. You might have post-partum depression which is no joke. You might have a premature or sick kid or have an infection or other issue yourself. 

In terms of derailing your career, yes, I feel that time off for pregnancy and maternity leave have set my career back, but I have my own practice and clients to manage. If you are in a firm where you really don't have that and do work for other people, it may or may not be less of an issue - I can't say, and hopefully others will speak to that. I have heard that sometimes it's better to take a mat leave or two in the 3-5 or 6 year range, after you have proven yourself enough that they want you to stay but before you have too many of your own files and responsibilities. 

Anecdotally, from conversations with others, I think that there are still perceptions that women taking mat leave are an inconvenience and are not committed, but there are also efforts to become more enlightened and modern about this issue. I think the resentment comes not so much from someone taking one mat leave, but from them taking one, coming back and then leaving on another one right away, and then maybe another one. I know friends who complain about a co-worker who took "three mat leaves in five years." That would definitely lead to you falling behind your peers in seniority and experience - but it may be worth it to you, and you can't legally be fired for it, so what people think and say behind your back may not be important. 

There is also the issue of whether you will want to come back full steam ahead to work as you did before having a baby, or whether you are going to want more flexible hours, to work part-time or work from home and so on. And it's hard to know that till you are actually a mother. You may think you will want to work and then realize you're not ready, or think you'll want to be home more but then really miss work. And of course you have to navigate the issue of child care - what hours you work after mat leave may depend on whether you're using day care with a hard pick-up time or whether you have a spouse or family member or nanny providing care for the later hours. 

Thank you so much for sharing your experience and also reminding me that many of my questions may remain unanswered until after pregnancy. Definitely something to think about. 

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Feel free to PM me for more details if you'd like, but in short:

1) Not a huge issue for me, thankfully. The first time around I was lucky enough to completely avoid exhaustion and morning sickness in the first trimester, and felt totally fine right up until giving birth. I was somewhat sicker during the first trimester the second time, but still easily able to work full-time. Dealing with my toddler in the evenings/weekends was more exhausting than working. 

2) First time I told at around 18 weeks. It was too late -- everyone knew. Second time (different job) I told at 15 weeks, was certain that everyone already knew, and everyone was completely surprised. Significant difference in office environments -- while both firms were/are very friendly and social, my old firm had more of a drinking culture than my current firm. I still attended the after-work events, but people noticed that I wasn't drinking. 

3) I was very happy to return from maternity leave. I took slightly less than a year each time (9 months and 7-8 months). I don't think that anyone would have balked at my taking 12 months if I wanted to, but 18 months might have raised some eyebrows. I think 18 months is generally a crazy amount of time to be away from work, but I respect that others may feel differently. I don't think that the maternity leave hindered my career in any way. 

I was a 3rd year call the first time around and a 6th year call the second. It was as good a time as any, though my second was very unexpected and I would have preferred to wait a little longer. That's probably more for personal reasons than professional though. 

One note, which providence touched on -- pregnancy/maternity leave is (relatively) short, but parenthood is long. The impact on your career extends well beyond any impact from pregnancy or maternity leave. For me, working long hours at a high-stress job was much easier while pregnant than with very small children at home. 

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For me, working long hours at a high-stress job was much easier while pregnant than with very small children at home. 

Yes, this. (I had really, really easy pregnancies though.) 

Other than saying that, I'll PM you. 

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I know three female lawyers with had little kids who have told me what they've done. I can tell you what they did:

1. Government lawyer. She took mat leave and then didn't work much overtime. Dad was available but also working full time (he was local, she commuted). Seemed to work out for them even with three kids under 5.

2. Private sector. Worked until around 4 then took work home.

3. Private sector. Boss tried to claw back some of her earnings while she was on mat leave. After threatening to sue he backed off, but was part of a larger exodus of lawyers from that firm a few years later.

Note that many lawyers are not employees. They are often on a fee split and so earn commission income instead of a wage. Lawyers are (usually) not subject to employment standards but are subject to human rights codes (I think). So they can't fire you just for getting pregnant. If you are just coming into law having worked low level jobs I think you will find that firms value associates a LOT more than minimum-wage retail. If they are smart they will be supportive (thought perhaps might not pay anything more than they have to). If they aren't, make the HRT complaint. Any lawyer worth their salt knows not to scare away talent and that it would be illegal to so do anyway.

So I know it might be a bit nerve-wracking but once you're past that dangerous time where women often miscarry or the pregnant doesn't take (3 months?) tell them you're pregnant. 

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Thank you so much to those who took the time to share their experiences. Such interesting stories and perspectives. Please feel free to continue sharing. I am sure that MANY women (and men) are reading this thread with the same questions as me.

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17 hours ago, izzy2018 said:

Thank you so much to those who took the time to share their experiences. Such interesting stories and perspectives. Please feel free to continue sharing. I am sure that MANY women (and men) are reading this thread with the same questions as me.

I'm one of those women. I finished articling recently and now I'm facing (what feels like) a HUGE decision. I'm getting married in the summer and my fiancé and I want to start a family soon after. We want a few kids and waiting wouldn't be ideal... I've been thinking of leaving law and doing something else entirely because of this. It's not just the pregnancy I'm worried about. I am pretty set on having that elusive work-life balance that doesn't seem to come very naturally to law. 

Thanks for asking this question, OP! 

 

 

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11 hours ago, beepboopbop said:

I'm one of those women. I finished articling recently and now I'm facing (what feels like) a HUGE decision. I'm getting married in the summer and my fiancé and I want to start a family soon after. We want a few kids and waiting wouldn't be ideal... I've been thinking of leaving law and doing something else entirely because of this. It's not just the pregnancy I'm worried about. I am pretty set on having that elusive work-life balance that doesn't seem to come very naturally to law. 

Thanks for asking this question, OP! 

 

 

You might want to think about running a solicitor practice. Solicitor work would be things like wills, conveyancing, contracts, separation agreements, uncontested divorces that don't require attending court, corporate matters including filing annual reports, and so on. You might be able to find a firm that is OK with less than full time, because if you're about to be called you probably don't know how to do a lot of the above. You can also do this kind of work from a home office, or from one of those office sharing spaces. BUT, you need a fax machine so you'll want to look into e-fax services.

The hours are VERY regular. You will never have to worry about an urgent chambers application that you have to scramble to find childcare to attend. The money can be worse than litigation but does not need to be. You need to be super careful about details, though. Don't want to disown the wrong son or convey the wrong house or something.

Alternatively if you love litigation you might be able to do it if you are meticulous with hours. As in, take the road of less billables but no chance of vanishing from your child's life for a month or two because of back to back trials. Don't be like most solicitors and spend long evenings prepping. Just keep a light enough schedule that you can be home at 5 AND be prepared.

Or just go back to law after the kids are in school. You'll still have your license and your JD. Perhaps best not to hang out your own shingle if your youngest is in grade 1 in 2028 though.

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On 1/30/2019 at 4:17 AM, beepboopbop said:

I'm one of those women. I finished articling recently and now I'm facing (what feels like) a HUGE decision. I'm getting married in the summer and my fiancé and I want to start a family soon after. We want a few kids and waiting wouldn't be ideal... I've been thinking of leaving law and doing something else entirely because of this. It's not just the pregnancy I'm worried about. I am pretty set on having that elusive work-life balance that doesn't seem to come very naturally to law. 

Thanks for asking this question, OP! 

 

 

A few? I don't know how you would get a career going and have a few kids all at the same time - a few as in 3, 4, 5 close together? That would be a lot to handle. 

 

On 1/30/2019 at 4:24 PM, AnonLaw said:

You might want to think about running a solicitor practice. Solicitor work would be things like wills, conveyancing, contracts, separation agreements, uncontested divorces that don't require attending court, corporate matters including filing annual reports, and so on. You might be able to find a firm that is OK with less than full time, because if you're about to be called you probably don't know how to do a lot of the above. You can also do this kind of work from a home office, or from one of those office sharing spaces. BUT, you need a fax machine so you'll want to look into e-fax services.

The hours are VERY regular. You will never have to worry about an urgent chambers application that you have to scramble to find childcare to attend. The money can be worse than litigation but does not need to be. You need to be super careful about details, though. Don't want to disown the wrong son or convey the wrong house or something.

Alternatively if you love litigation you might be able to do it if you are meticulous with hours. As in, take the road of less billables but no chance of vanishing from your child's life for a month or two because of back to back trials. Don't be like most solicitors and spend long evenings prepping. Just keep a light enough schedule that you can be home at 5 AND be prepared.

Or just go back to law after the kids are in school. You'll still have your license and your JD. Perhaps best not to hang out your own shingle if your youngest is in grade 1 in 2028 though.

I'm not sure that that is possible in litigation - it is so unpredictable I'm not sure how you would keep a light schedule, avoid evening prep and be any kind of valued employee or successful business owner.

It doesn't get better because the kids are in school either. They still have to get there and get home and they have extracurricular activities, playdates, homework, chores, all kinds of stuff to do in the evenings and on weekends. And they get sick and have to stay home. 

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On 1/30/2019 at 2:17 AM, beepboopbop said:

I'm one of those women. I finished articling recently and now I'm facing (what feels like) a HUGE decision. I'm getting married in the summer and my fiancé and I want to start a family soon after. We want a few kids and waiting wouldn't be ideal... I've been thinking of leaving law and doing something else entirely because of this. It's not just the pregnancy I'm worried about. I am pretty set on having that elusive work-life balance that doesn't seem to come very naturally to law. 

Thanks for asking this question, OP! 

 

 

I'm not exactly a fan of the 'lean-in'/Sheryl Sandberg mentality, but I do think there's something to be said for not worrying too much about pregnancy/kids/work-life balance until you need to. I'm a litigator with little kids, and I work reasonable hours. Sometimes it's crazy busy (though never for months on end) -- sometimes not. I've worked in 4 different jobs (and 3 distinct areas of law) since law school, and have had reasonable hours at all of them. I have not ever worked at one of the large downtown firms, and I do know that those firms generally require significantly more hours than what I put in. That's a big part of why so many associates leave after 3 or 4 years, but there's no reason that you can't choose to do that if you find yourself pregnant 3 years in and want a better schedule. My point is: don't worry about problems that don't exist yet. Don't be a solicitor if you want to be a litigator. And don't leave the law because you're worried that you'll find the schedule too difficult, or the job too stressful, or whatever. Try it. Try multiple firms, try different areas of law, and if it doesn't work out, then look for something different. 

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Posted (edited)

I'm in house, so my experience is pretty similar to what you would get in the standard corporate work world. I'm not sure if I qualify as having kids "early", I think I was practicing for 7 years by the time I had a baby, but not by choice--we took awhile to conceive.

1) My hours were not particularly long when I got pregnant. I worked 8:30-5:30 and through lunch, type thing. I was fortunate that I had absolutely no external signs of pregnancy, no morning sickness, felt great, maybe a bit more tired than usual in the evening. I didn't miss a beat.I was pretty much checked out the last couple weeks of work--pretty much worked till my due date--and by then was very uncomfortable, in pain, etc. but I didn't shorten my hours or anything. In hindsight, I would have taken more time off prior to my due date.

2) I just had a conversation with my boss, when I was 16 weeks pregnant. He took it well. I actually asked him not to tell anyone else, only because we had one person who was a nosy f*ck and I pretty much only wanted her to find out as late as possible, once I was showing. I can't remember how everyone else found out.

3) I returned to work early into a different job. I felt certain things happened while I was away that were unfair to me, and part of it I felt had to do with my absence. Mat leave would have affected my progress had I stayed at my previous employer, but I was able to find another job at significantly higher seniority and pay. My new employer did not care that I was coming off a mat leave. That said, it took us awhile to get pregnant, (which is difficult as a type A who has everything carefully planned!) and during that time, plus the year that I was pregnant, I felt I wasn't able to entertain possible career advancement opportunities when recruiters contacted me for other roles; and I had to hand over an interesting high profile project for someone else to take over for me while I was gone.

Other than taking mat leave a bit early, I wouldn't change a thing. My advice would be to make a conscious decision about what you want out of life/career before you come back from mat leave, perhaps as soon as you find out you're pregnant, so you can plan for that while you're away (having said that, during the mat leave, try not to worry about your career and enjoy the time you have with the baby. It really goes by so quickly!) But also know that life happens and how you feel now may be different than how you feel when you are holding your baby.

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